A is for Apple
Writer: Jessica Bellamy
Director: Scarlet McGylnn
SBW Stables Theatre
March 29 – April 9, 2022
Thank goodness for the Griffin Theatre’s Lookout programme otherwise we may have missed the opportunity to see Jessica Bellamy’s refreshingly charming and provocative play, A is for Apple. Bellamy, who is both writer and producer of A is for Apple, is a next generation talent to “look out” for. Her compact and potent play tackles the conflict between religious tradition and change in attitudes to women with a witty vivacity that is much more effective that the usual litany of sorrows.
As the simple but evocative set (designer, Emma White) reminds us through its blue and yellow chairs, the tyranny of the past is not confined to religious traditions. The demand for self-determination both national and personal varies from full-scale war to individual resistance to restrictive rules that maintain the power of an elite. In A is for Apple the battleground is the long-established Jewish patriarchal traditions that shape the behaviour, and the role in the Judaic community, of Jewish womanhood.
The pubescent Shoshona (Zoe Resnick) attired in baggy pants, striped tee and boots, immediately captures our hearts and interest as she erupts into the stage space delivering her resistance to the demands of her religion in engaging rap style. Its lack of relevance to her life and female pop role models is conveyed by her comically insouciant pose as she falls asleep during the service.
Next to her sits her appointed guide through the mysteries of her approaching Bat Mitzvah, the soberly dressed Miriam (Amy Hack). They talk as they bob up and down in response to unheard ritual prompts – a device that links them as women and puppets – and at the same time is visually very funny.
The self-doubting Miriam, feeling unequal to the task of preparing her exuberant charge and increasingly discomforted her cheeky but thoughtful questions, seeks help – at Shoshona’s prompting – from life coach Agathe (also Resnick). An entrancing mix of Roma fortune teller and flower power guru with a fascinating Australian-Middle European accent, Agathe fosters greater self-esteem in Miriam. Her methods are weird but as Miriam’s repressed energy is released her dancing becomes less angular, more expressive of bodily pleasure.
The young girl and young woman are drawn together and with the aid of a magic potion (aka as imagination) launch a truly hilarious search – words cannot do justice to Bellamy’s comedic gift and the actor’s skill – through the matriarchs of the Old Testament for possible role models of Jewish womanhood. Their very trenchant and funny rescripting of the stories of Sarah, Rebekah, (a delightfully grumpy Hack), Leah and Rachel (in the Red Tent) lead us finally to Eve and a laid-back serpent sporting a sequinned baseball cap.
The one constant on the stage is the apple-bearing tree, a reminder of the powerful and negative influence the Eden story has exerted over the lives of women for millennia. And so, this fabulously entertaining play ends with a passionate, deeply moving appeal by the young Shoshana for new stories, new and inclusive imaginings.