THEATRE: The Eleventh Commandment; Hampstead Theatre

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The Independent Culture
So what's a nice Jewish boy doing in a play like this? Answer: everything you'd expect a nice Jewish boy to do in a play about a nice Jewish boy who wants to shack up with a shiksa. Long before the guilt- inducing holocaust-survivor mother pops up from between the sheets of the bed where our hero is trying to make out with an Ulster Protestant girl, you may feel that watching dressage would hold more surprises.

This is a pity because, as a recent feature on these pages about David Schneider and The Eleventh Commandment indicated, he's sitting on what is potentially a very good subject. Schneider, who plays Daniel, his fictional alter-ego, in Matthew Lloyd's likeable production, has lived for the past few years with the non-Jewish (and highly accomplished) actress, Sandy McDade, her young son from a former relationship and their baby daughter. A play about the strains on both their families and about how you keep an alternative family unit going in such circumstances would have been worth having.

But instead of starting in medias res, Schneider opts for the easier course of backtracking and going down the cliche-strewn path worn to death by a legion of hypochondriac, guilt-ridden, mother-dominated Jewish boys before him. The attempts to give this a new spin are all so TV-derived in their short-breathed, sketch-limited technique, you feel the evening should be called David Schneider - as seen on TV.

The framing idea is that Daniel - invested with Schneider's gap-toothed charm - is under surveillance for un-Jewish activities by two fantasy detectives (well performed by James Clyde and Nicholas Ball) who furnish the excuse for some laboured and irrelevant running gags. The Ulster girl (played by Tracey Lynch, who is a curt delight) is made a Newsroom South East reporter largely, you feel, so that she can do "to camera" bulletins on their relationship - facile TV spoofs like the Abraham and Isaac sketch done as a Beadlesque You've Been Framed skit, etc.

Woody Allen in (I think) Annie Hall confesses that his self-esteem is "One notch lower than Kafka". Confesses or brags? Certainly, like Allen's, Schneider's is the kind of retiring self-deprecation that has no qualms about hogging centre stage. Sheila Steafel, as the mother he eventually accuses of reverse racism, skilfully plays this woman from her own point of view as well as from Daniel's, but this is more than can be said for the script. Likewise, the Ulster girl is given one good scene where she charges Daniel with being selfish and comments that she, too, might have cause to want to lean back on the proud comforts of victimhood. The irony, though, is that straight afterwards the focus shifts squarely back to Daniel / Schneider.

Funnier in much more original and human ways, and offering genuine insights into the problems of inter-racial living, Ayub Khan Din's East Is East (at the Royal Court until Saturday and then at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, from 5 Feb) has the advantage over the Eleventh Commandment in being a properly dramatised play and in giving you the exciting sense that the author actually made discoveries about himself while writing it.

`Eleventh Commandment' to 4 Jan: 0171-722 9301

Paul Taylor