Judi Herman is a freelance writer, broadcaster and producer, working mainly for BBC Radio World Service and the BBC’s main UK speech network, [Radio 4]. She specialises in making radio features on arts and entertainment, religion, education, travel and human-interest stories. Among programmes to which she contributes regularly are the World Service Arts and Entertainment Magazine The Ticket, the World Service Heart and Soul Series and Radio Four’s flagship magazine programme Woman’s Hour. She also writes regular theatre reviews for the influential UK theatre website Whatsonstage.com and is a guest performing arts lecturer at Middlesex University Judi has written several stage shows, including How the West End Was Won, a show celebrating Jewish life in the West End of London, commissioned to accompany the London Jewish Museum's exhibition Living Up West; and Stones of Kolin, a play with music, charting six hundred years of Jewish life in a small Czech town, performed in both London and Kolin in the Czech Republic. She’s also worked in Public Relations, including theatre PR, so she reckons she knows the theatre business from more sides than most! Judi lives near London with Steve, her husband of thirty years. They have a son and a daughter in their early twenties – and the family is completed by a Bedlington Terrier puppy called Bertie! E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
The lintel of the title is at the entrance to a home in Jerusalem. It’s the erstwhile home of a figure who found fame - or notoriety - in folklore for being homeless. The Wandering Jew.
One may be forgiven for thinking that this must be an important figure in Jewish mythology, but the truth is perhaps surprising. For this Jew was condemned to wander eternally because, as legend has it, his home was on the road that led to the place of crucifixion; and so it was that Jesus staggered and fell to the ground beneath the weight of his cross, in this man’s doorway, ‘underneath the lintel’. And because the householder did not offer the succour of hospitality to his uninvited and unfortunate guest, but scorned him, Jesus himself condemned him to wander the world, unable to die and eternally homeless.
This is the central premise from which Glen Berger spins this flawed but fascinating picaresque tale of a man on a mission to follow the elusive trail of an immortal figure almost as vilified as two other Jews, Cain and Judas.
The man who finds himself drawn into trying to solve the mystery of a trail he feels sure has been laid to entice him to follow it is The Librarian. He has no name, unlike the Wandering Jew himself, who often goes by the unlikely name Ahasver – unlikely because Ahasuerus is the (heathen) King of Persia who marries Queen Esther.
In Richard Schiff’s detailed and winning portrayal, the Librarian, is precise, painstaking - and solitary by circumstance rather than choice. He’s not Jewish either, but a Dutchman, which could be considered an interesting extra layer – or simply a baffling decision by Berger.
Our Dutch librarian is nothing if not methodical – and he does not suffer overdue items gladly. So when a travel guide turns up in the overnight returns an astonishing 113 years overdue, his first thought, fuelled by self-righteous Schadenfreude, is to gloat over the size of the fine that has accrued!
His second thought though, is to pursue the tardy borrower, not for the money owed, but to follow what he construes as a trail of clues left across time and space as to his incredible identity.
Luckily the Librarian has no ties (for he has been unlucky in love through his inability to connect and communicate), but with a deal of leave owing, he sets off on a globe-trotting mission to find his man.
The man may prove elusive but perhaps the Librarian finds himself. Or maybe his fate is even to be tempted to stand in for the Wandering Jew himself – as Hercules stood in for Atlas and bore the weight of the World on his shoulders awhile.
At any rate he gathers enough material – in objets trouvés, items of evidence, neatly labelled and presented as in courtroom – to give the lecture which gives the play its form. Its set is a bare lecture room with unforgiving light, but there are intriguing though occasionally intrusive sound and lighting effects (courtesy of Neil Patel’s set design, Jan Hartley’s projections, Paul Anderson’s lighting and Adam Cork’s Sound Design and Musical Composition).
It’s only ninety minutes in length and largely it sustains the interest, thanks to Schiff’s quiet charisma, and Maria Mileaf's inventive and sensitive direction.
Before the cataclysmic events of September 2001, a British comedian called Dave Gorman, made a show of approximately equal length about his own globe trotting quest to find as many other men called Dave Gorman as he could (his goal was fifty-two like a full pack of cards). The resulting show was funny and original, intriguing and charming – and cheerfully lacking in subtext.
In the wake of the 9/11 bombings, ‘Underneath the Lintel’ is the flip, dark side of Gorman’s daft innocence, laden with subtext and demanding to be taken seriously, however self-deprecating its protagonist may be. The play had a successful run on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA and made a considerable impact, perhaps because audiences identified with this superhuman effort to make sense of the apparently impossible. Here in the UK we are - and it is perhaps not a virtue - more cynical despite world events, more likely to fold our arms and demand more laughs and less portentousness.
Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger, a one-man play featuring American actor Richard Schiff, who plays Toby Ziegler in Television’s ‘West Wing’
7th February - 14th April 2007
Catherine Street, London WC2B 5LA
0870 890 1103 (24 Hrs)
A £2.00 booking fee per ticket applies to phone and online bookings.
No booking fee applies when booking in person at the Duchess Theatre Box Office.
Tuesday – Saturday Evenings 7.45pm
Wednesday & Saturday Matinees* 3.00pm
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American actor Richard Schiff
Richard Schiff is The Librarian
photo by Alastair Muir