'Shalom Baby' review or 'The Jews are getting jiggy!'

'Shalom Baby', Rikki Beadle-Blair
Theatre Royal Stratford East, Friday 28th October
Written for Time Out

Beat boxing. Photo Credit: Robert Day

Rikki Beadle-Blair's new drama-comedy, which he wrote, designed and directed, covers an awful lot of ground. 'Shalom Baby' hops between two forward-thinking (or at least feeling) Jewish families, living in 1930s Berlin and modern-day New York. It's a lot to unpick and the past sections feel stiff. But there are also great bursts of energy and invention, particularly when it comes to Beadle-Blair's thunderingly expressive, rap monologues.

It's a shame we don't see rap on-stage more often, since it's such a raw form of personal expression. Beadle nails his characters with just a few, vibrant verses. It is how we meet 'wigger', Ryan 'Rhyme' Watson, who spits with angry confusion and repressed affection. And, when black music agent, Avery 'Slice' Price, fights with his white girlfriend, his rhythmic monologue hum with old and ugly resentments.

But these raps only blast through the modern-day sections. The scenes set around WWII feel bland by comparison. They're over-stuffed with information, as Beadle-Blair carefully explains key Jewish terms ('What, may I ask, is a 'goy'?) and establishes the context. The relationships are neglected and the romance between black goy, Ike Essien (Nathan Clough), and Jewish lass Natalie Weissman (Katie Borland), is only crudely convincing.

The homosexual relationships, both past and present, are the most complex and persuasive. Toby Wharton stands out as rapper, 'Rhyme', who wears hoodies slashed with skeletons but also nurses a massive crush on his Jewish friend, Noah (Tom Ross-Williams). Even when 'Rhyme' smashes Noah unconscious, there's real tenderness in his instinctive right-hook.


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