Finborough Theatre's Treasure Takes a Wry Look at a Grave Subject

This revival of a Yiddish classic is funny but too fussy, says Penny Flood

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Olivia Bernstone as Tille

Photos by Richard Lakos

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This is the British premiere of a play by Yiddish playwright David Pinski, a prolific and popular writer at the beginning of the 20th Century.

It's been adapted by Colin Chambers, a man with a great pedigree: a former theatre critic, he is also Literary Manager of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Emeritus Professor of Drama at Kingston University, so it comes as a surprise that this feels like a work in progress, it's too long and too fussy.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy it because I did, it just could have been so much better.

It's a comedy about a poor gravedigger's family who come into some money, and the effect it has on them and their community. The action is set in its time and place where the older folk are trying to hang on to the religious rites and traditions while the young folk want more.

It opens on a Jewish fast day where mother Jachne-Braine (Fiz Marcus) is reading the book of lamentations to her daughter Tille (Olivia Bernstone) who is more interested in looking at the latest funeral see if there are any handsome men there.

Gravedigger Chone (James Pearse) comes home to find his son Judke (Sid Sagar)has found some gold coins while burying his dog.

Judke is a young man disabled in brain and body and prone to fits. The excitement brings on one of his fits and he forgets where he's buried the dog, but before that happens he hands the money to his sister who rushes out to spend it.

Thus word gets out that the gravedigger's family had money triggering a trail of callers - friends, neighbours, matchmakers, town officials and managers of all sorts of charitable societies in various states of sobriety.

And so a frantic search begins to find the dog's grave.

It is funny as Chambers isn't afraid to take a wry look at the religious rituals that are supposed to hold the community together but lack relevance to their everyday lives, while poking fun at the way people - rich and poor - aren't embarrassed to showing how ridiculous they can become when they think they can get something for nothing.

However, it would be even funnier if it were better paced to give the humour time to register. There's a cast of 18, far too many for the tiny Finborough space and as some of them take on two or three roles, it gets confusing.

There's just too much going on and although the direction is tight, at times the action trips over the fine line between comedy and farce.

Finally, it doesn't need the three boys to pop up and recite a very long parable about a snake that turned into money any more than it needs the ghosts. I have to admit I have no idea what their purpose was.

This is a great chance to see a rarely performed classic, but a sadly missed opportunity to present something really outstanding.

Treasure continues until November 14. For tickets, call the box office on 0844 847 1652 or book online here.

November 4, 2015