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Oliver Coppersmith and Jonah Russell as Eitan and Avi in The Mikvah Project. Photograph: Mark Douet

The stage is a swimming pool, or more precisely, a mikvah, a type of bath used in Judaism for ritual immersion. The leads are Eitan (Oliver Coppersmith) and Avi (Jonah Russell), two young Jewish men discovering what it means to find and hold on to love. This brave and sexually-charged play from writer Josh Azouz and director Jay Miller, now at The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick, is quite the spectacle.

Eitan is 17, navigating his way through hormone-ridden teenage years, and arriving at the conclusion that he’s fallen in love with Avi, a 35-year-old married man who’s trying for a baby. They meet at the mikvah to be spiritually cleansed, but it soon becomes clear they’re only there for each other.
Lighting makes effective use of the space in the theatre, the rippling water casting an eerie reflection on the corrugated iron ceiling. There’s a bravery in the staging and the physicality that transcends the small space, and brings the audience right into the mix.

Clever interplay between the two vastly different personalities makes for a highly enjoyable exchange of dialogue and the heavy weight of things unspoken. As Avi says, love is “all types of silence”. Wonderful casting really elevates this production from fringe theatre to a piece that could happily sit in the National Theatre.

Utterly immersive from the outset, the play dissects stereotypes and clichés – both of men and of Jewish culture. It meanders along a relationship between age, experience, longing, desire, admiration and duty, blending startling music with clever dialogue. It’s surprisingly frank and funny, focusing on young male anxieties. Eitan is eager and carefree, Avi has an obligation to his wife – there are very human exchanges of power and control as the two men try to find a place in which they’re happy.

Exploring the boundaries of desire, fantasy and sexuality, and informed by today’s Jewish culture at every turn, The Mikvah Project is a must-see production in the heart of Hackney Wick. Erotic, emotional, extraordinary.

The Mikvah Project is at The Yard Theatre, Unit 2a Queen’s Yard, E9 5EN until 21 March
theyardtheatre.co.uk

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