Yiddish treasure’s golden return
King of adapted by former RSC literary manager Colin Chambers for what is probably the play’s British premiere, is set in the Russian Pale in the early 1900s. Judke, the simple, somewhat disabled son of the shtetl’s grave-digger, returns home with several gold coins after burying his beloved dog. Instead of handing over the coins to his estranged parents he gives them to his sister Tille who goes on a shopping spree in the hope that fine clothes and a dowry will find her a match. She may be right.
News soon spreads that the gravedigger’s family has come into money, and, after a visit from a matchmaker who attempts to marry Tille off to an eligible bachelor, the home — and the Finborough’s tiny stage — is soon filled with all manner of opportunists asking for donations to this charity or that.
Another visitor threatens the family with legal action if it is shown that the treasure has been found in his field; while the head of the community also wants a share of the booty.
The problem is that the existence of treasure is based on the assumption that there will be more gold where Judke buried his dog and, after one of his funny turns, the poor boy can’t remember where his put his dog’s corpse.
It’s an awfully mannered set-up. And although Alice Malin’s production is strong on atmosphere, Pinski’s first act is almost fatally laborious. Characters endlessly repeat their anxieties and do silly things in order to further the plot.
But then something strange and wonderful happens. The play breaks out of the grave-digger’s home and into the cemetery where the entire town dig for the mythical trove. And then the narrative shifts again to an entirely different, even spiritual dimension that sees the town’s dead pass judgment on the living. The balance of the play is still far too heavily weighted towards the inert first act. And for too long Treasure appears a deservedly buried piece of theatre. But it’s well worth sticking with this play until it reveals itself to be, at least in part, dramatic gold.
Going for gold: Olivia Bernstone and Fiz Marcus in