Amidst an increasing climate of far right ideology and following a doubling of hate crime incidents in the UK, One Jewish Boy makes a timely return with its West End debut at Trafalgar Studios. Written as an urgent response to overt antisemitism, this compelling two-hander explores a young family’s struggle against fear, prejudice and identity, looking at the inheritances that haunt us.
Written by multi-award winning writer Stephen Laughton, current Writer in Residence for the Astrophysics Department at the American Museum of Natural History, One Jewish Boy is heading to the West End for four weeks only following its Old Red Lion Theatre sell-out success in January last year.
Set in London, Europe and New York, One Jewish Boy captures key moments over a ten-year relationship between Jesse, a nice Jewish boy from North London and the not-so Jewish Alex, the mixed heritage woman he falls desperately in love with. Through scenes with an interwoven chronology, we discover that they met in their twenties on the Ibiza party scene. But now Jesse is paranoid and frightened which is messing up his relationship, his job, his daughter and his life. He has every reason to be frightened.
Antisemitism rears its ugly head in a horrific way every 70 or so years, the last time it killed six million Jews, the time before that it resulted in their complete expulsion from eastern Europe – and with a 34% rise in violent assaults against Jewish people in the last year alone, Jesse can’t bear to think of what this might all mean. Not with a 9-month-old daughter to protect. But with antisemitism and racism rife in political parties and recent highly publicised hate crime incidents, One Jewish Boy asks if the fear of hatred, could be worse than hate itself?
Stephen Laughton has been targeted with abuse on social media himself when the play was first performed, and posters for the production were defaced and torn down. Palestinian flags were posted online in response to mentions of the play. Among the comments were: “Who cares about Jews? This looks shit”; “I must say I do not give a fuck. Perhaps you could write a play about Palestinian kids getting blown to pieces by Jews”; and “You’re a fucking enabler. You Jews disgust me”. Laughton told The Guardian he was saddened by the responses. “I expected something, but I didn’t anticipate they’d come for me. I’m worried there’ll be more antisemitism when the play opens, and I’m worried it could become physical.” The Community Security Trust, which protects and defends British Jews, was consulted. Laughton said he had wanted to write about antisemitism for some time as he had watched friends – mostly liberal Jews who are critical of the Israeli government’s policies – become more fearful about rising tensions and overt abuse.
In 2017 another play by Laughton, Run, was caught up in controversy when it featured as part of a week-long LGBT festival at JW3, a Jewish cultural centre in north London. Seven ultra-Orthodox rabbis called for a boycott of the festival, saying it was “in total contradiction to Orthodox Judaism and Halacha [Jewish law]”.