Craig dis­cov­ers his rub­ber soul

The Jewish Chronicle - - REVIEWS - IN­TER­VIEW JOHN NATHAN

PLAY­WRIGHT RYAN Craig is used to tack­ling weighty sub­jects. His Na­tional The­atre play of 2011, The Holy Rosen­bergs, drew on Arthur Miller and ex­plored the ex­tent to which the Jewish di­as­pora is im­pli­cated by the ac­tions of the Is­rael De­fence Forces; his ver­sion of Pol­ish play­wright Tadeusz Slo­bodzianek’s sear­ing drama Our Class dealt with the slaugh­ter of Jews by their Pol­ish neigh­bours dur­ing the Holo­caust, while The Glass Room pre-empted the Rachel Weisz movie De­nial by look­ing at Holo­caust re­vi­sion­ism. For his lat­est play, which is at the Hamp­stead The­atre and is di­rected by the venue’s Ed­ward Hall, he is tack­ling, well, rub­ber. The stuff weighs more than you might think.

“It is heavy and it makes your clothes, hair and skin dirty,” says Craig whose new, partly au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal play Filthy Busi­ness stars Sara Kestel­man as a first-gen­er­a­tion Jewish im­mi­grant Yetta Solomon who bat­tles to keep the fam­ily con­cern go­ing across three gen­er­a­tions.

“I’ve been try­ing to write this kind of fam­ily busi­ness drama for years be­cause of my own fam­ily his­tory,” he adds. “They started this rub­ber com­pany. It was a clas­sic story of im­mi­gra­tion from east­ern Europe: no money, no skills, yet some­how hav­ing to build some­thing of your own to sur­vive and make a life. It was a world within in a world; a state within a state. And this is what Yetta does in the play.”

Craig is at pains to say that the play is fic­tion. But the ter­ri­tory in which he sets it is straight out of his fa­ther’s shop on the Hol­loway Road.

“It sold foam rub­ber, mat­tresses and beds,” he re­mem­bers. “It had a very spe­cific smell and when I was a kid, the large ware­house of foam rub­ber was a kind of early soft play cen­tre for me.”

As with Craig’s great grand­fa­ther Bar­net Co­hen — who ran a mar­ket stall next to Tesco founder Jack — Yetta’s busi­ness grew from mod­est beginnings.

“She comes over, her hus­band is a Jewish im­mi­grant and is work­ing at a tram fac­tory fit­ting

Sara Kestel­man (Yetta) in these mas­sive rub­ber tyres,” says Craig, ex­plain­ing both his fam­ily’s back story and his hero­ine’s.

“In or­der to fit the tyres, he has to cut them, so there are loads of scraps. He doesn’t want to throw them away be­cause that gen­er­a­tion can’t bear waste.

“And so they made things: soles for shoes, bot­tle stop­pers, hot wa­ter bot­tles — and sold them at the mar­ket in the week­end. So they had a week­end trade while they were still work­ing in ware­houses.”

And, as hap­pened in real life, two ques­tions arose in the play: Who in­her­its the busi­ness, and who wants to in­herit the busi­ness?

“My Mum wasn’t re­ally in­ter­ested in me fol­low­ing my fa­ther’s foot­steps. She was a fac­tor in my go­ing to univer­sity and think­ing of some­thing else to do,” Craig ex­plains. It’s here that fic­tion and fact di­verge. Yetta is de­ter­mined to keep her prog­eny in the fam­ily em­pire.. “She’s ruth­less and ma­nip­u­la­tive but ev­ery­thing she does is done with great deal of love and the best of in­ten­tions. But as with all these things the re­sult is not nec­es­sar­ily what she imag­ined. “

Filthy Busi­ness is at The Hamp­stead The­atre un­til April 22

PHO­TOS: DO­MINIC CLEMENCE

is partly based on Craig’s own fam­ily

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