By Carissa Shale
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah or Chrismukkah, ‘A Very Jewish Christmas Carol’ is a heart-warming, must-see production, just in time for the holiday season. Produced by Melbourne Theatre Company, this original festive comedy is a fresh and modern re-contextualisation of a Charles Dickens classic, that invites you into the world of a quirky Jewish family living in Melbourne.
Local baker Elysheva Scroogavitz, refuses to let anything, or anyone, get in her way as she endeavours to figure out the secret recipe for her Bubi’s famous Polish gingerbread. While grieving for the devastating and untimely death of her fiancé and father of her unborn child, Ely pushes her loving, yet overbearing family further and further away, embodying a modern characterisation of a nasty, ruthless and heartless Scrooge. However, inspired by playwright Elise Esther Hearst’s own Holocaust-surviving grandmother, the ghost of Ely’s Bubi sets her on a path of self-discovery. She is then visited by the rein-dybbuk of Chrismukkah Past (a demon in Jewish folklore that has possessed the body of a reindeer), a giant Gingerbread Golem (a homemade cookie brought to life by its’ human creator) and Lilith Claus (a demonic figure believed to be the first wife of Adam). On her journey, Ely is forced to face her own grief, as she learns of the unspoken loss and trauma that plagues her family history. On her journey we are introduced to many colourful and unconventional characters, including her overbearing ‘mother-in-law’, and the local rabbi, who happens to be a woman, and the secret lesbian lover of Ely’s sister.
Performed by a talented, expert cast, each actor displays professionalism as they commit to honest and sensitive portrayals. Attention to detail was key in bringing authenticity to the production, with actors often expertly jumping between English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish. A stand-out performer was Evelyn Krape, whose artistic range was evident as she transitions between a Gingerbread Golem, who cavorts around the stage in a child-like manner, into a 99 year old cranky grandmother. Decorated in iridescent sparkles, pearls and sequins, reminiscent of an Chrismukkah Bauble, Krape’s witty and eccentric portrayal of Bubi is an absolute joy to witness.
Jacob Battista’s simple set design of a humble family bakery allows for seamless transitions in time and place. Meanwhile, the illusion of possessed kitchen appliances that move of their own accord indicates the presence of the paranormal. The placement of colourful milk crates, an industrial Hobart mixer, and a window filled with Challah, babka, and gingerbread houses, is carefully considered to craft a realistic and nostalgic set, complete with a light dusting of flour to ensure authenticity. Meanwhile, Dann Barber’s meticulous costume design brings the characters to life and perfectly accentuates the bold and vibrant personalities present in the production. A highlight of the production is Jude Perl’s musical direction which seamlessly blends classic Christmas Carols with traditional Jewish folk songs, hymns and prayers, harmonised in flawless a capella by the ensemble of Chrismukkah carollers.
This highly considered production delves beyond the surface of Jewish culture to explore the intricacies and depth of Jewish life in Melbourne. This magical story is a true fusion of cultures that celebrates the differences and similarities of the Christian and Jewish experience, while exploring universal themes of grief, loss, and love. Above all, this production highlights the importance of spreading love and unity at a time when coming together is more important than ever.