Tracy Ann Oberman
The first new play by Mike Leigh for 12 years, Two Thousand Years caused quite a stir when its imminent arrival was announced by the National Theatre. Before it even had a proper title, and with no information available about its contents, it managed to sell out for its entire run.
As a result there was palpable sense of anticipation, and also of trepidation, for all those of us who had bought tickets on faith. However, perhaps predictably, there was no real need for panic: with Two Thousand Years Leigh has created the kind cobweb-fine character study we have come to expect from him; a funny, sad, and sometimes crazy look at a modern Jewish family.
Set in a nice suburban house in Cricklewood, Rachel and Danny (played by Caroline Gruber and Allan Corduner) are a liberal, Guardian reading couple. Rachel was born and initially bought up in a Kibbutz in Israel and Danny reminisces about his typical Jewish childhood. They consider themselves liberal and fair-minded and often engage in even-handed discussions about the issues in the Middle East.
However their reaction to their son Josh’s growing interest in the Jewish faith, his decision to wear a cuppol and to begin praying, undermines this. Rachel begins to watch her son with a worried, confused look on her face and Danny quips: “it’s like having a Muslim in the house. Or a Martian.”
Via a series of rehearsal workshops, working in Mike Leigh’s customary fashion, the actors have carefully crafted their characters and the resulting drama fully examines the history and issues, not just behind the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but many of the issues that face all of us in modern Britain. Each character brings with them a new idea or angle with which to view the world we all live in.
Rachel and Danny’s daughter Tammy, played with real fire by Alexis Zegerman, is something of an idealist: a translator recently returned from Venezuela, she sees the world for all its possibilities. With her, she brings home an Israeli boyfriend Tzachi, played by Nitzan Sharron, whose view of life, politics and family is entirely pragmatic. In sharp contrast her grandfather, played as a wonderful grump by John Burgess, is disillusioned by everything and very upset by his grandson’s sudden interest in the Jewish faith.
Two Thousand Years may be an examination of a Jewish family, but the situations and interactions portrayed will apply to most people; doors are slammed, voices raised, parents communicate silently by looks alone, whispered conversations take place and a kind of family ‘short-hand’ is employed capable of making everyone else into outsiders.
At one point, Rachel, in an argument with her sister, the monstrous Michelle (played when I saw it by former EastenderTracy-Ann Oberman) agrees that while she has never worked, made much money or changed the world, she has instead created a comfortable environment for her husband and two children, who despite everything obviously love her. It is in this moment that you understand who has made a real success of their life in this family.
Michelle may be the least subtle character here, almost bordering on stereotype, but her selfish childlike behaviour serves to show the others how secure, warm and loving their family really is.
Was Two Thousand Years worth the wait? Worth such unprecedented excitement? Almost. It’s certainly worth joining the queue for day tickets to decide for yourself. An intimate and often uncomfortable dissection of one family, the play has much in it that resonates greatly.