The Arc: the topic of modern Jewish identity deserves more than these three thin plays

Abigail Weinstock, Nigel Planer and Sam Thorpe-Spinks in The Arc, at Soho Theatre
Abigail Weinstock, Nigel Planer and Sam Thorpe-Spinks in The Arc, at Soho Theatre - Danny With a Camera

A first date is bad enough without God suddenly popping up over the sauvignon to inform you that you have a culturally mandated duty to procreate. But if you are both Jewish, and have inadvertently hooked up despite neither of you specifically tapping “Jewish” into the app, then it’s possible that this is an anxiety that haunts you anyway, regardless of whether God turns up or not.

Certainly, this is the far from ideal circumstances of Adrian and Eva’s fumbling dinner date in the second in this triptych of playlets from three Jewish playwrights that hit the pivotal moments in the arc of life itself, from Birth to Marriage and through to Death. The three writers are Amy Rosenthal, Alexis Zegerman and Ryan Craig. It’s a pity so little here feels representative of their talents.

The Arc springs from a successful evening staged last year by production company Emanate to explore questions of modern Jewish identity within the form of six short scenes. And undoubtedly, beneath The Arc’s gimmicky framework, there is an interesting exploration here into how to live as a Jewish person alongside the inescapable legacy of, or perhaps even obligation to, 2,000 tumultuous years of history.

So, Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s jittery Naomi, who in Rosenthal’s Birth tracks down the gynaecologist (Nigel Planer) who induced her 50 years ago to inform him she has suffered birth trauma as a result, is acidly informed that her so-called trauma is arguably out of proportion – after all, she has no numbers inked onto her wrist. In Zegerman’s Marriage, Adrian insists to Eva that he is not remotely religious, but then can’t help recite the traditional Jewish blessing before eating, presumably an indelible part of his Edgware upbringing. In Craig’s Death, two squabbling siblings and their emotionally distant oncologist father (Adrian Schiller) find a unity in reciting the Kaddish over a dead hamster – a scenario that achieves a degree of emotional poignancy in its knowing absurdity.

Yet this is thin fare, hamstrung by the crudeness of the concept, and the crudeness too of some of the writing. The brevity of each play (together, the three clock in at 65 minutes) should allow for some formal innovation – instead, the occasional time slip and divine manifestation confuses rather than intriguingly disrupts the action. Kayla Feldman’s sole directorial flourish seems to consist of loud blasts of music between each scene change.

The cast manage to find some purchase on their respective characters; even so, Planer’s God is never less than ridiculous. Perhaps blame the format: Rosenthal, Zegerman and Craig have much more of substance to say than this.

Until Aug 26. Tickets: 020 7482 0100;