With the Edinburgh Fringe now bigger than ever, Sophie Eastaugh earmarks three Jewish plays well worth catching

Three Jewish plays command attention at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, led by Mush and Me, starring Daniella Isaacs and winner of the IdeasTap Underbelly Award.

This new work tells a contemporary love story against a backdrop of religious and family pressures as Gabby, a 26-year-old Jewish girl struggling to get over her relationship with ‘nice Jewish boy’ Lee, meets 24-year-old Mushtaq, a Muslim of Lebanese descent.

As their friendship blossoms into a fiery romance, the pair must question whether religion, culture and family are more important than love.

Mush and Me tells a contemporary love story between a Jew and a Muslim

Mush and Me tells a contemporary love story between a Jew and a Muslim

Written by upcoming playwright Karla Crome, the star of E4’s Misfits, Mush and Me is inspired by a deeply-personal story: Isaacs’ 102-year-old Jewish great aunt, who has been single all her life, fell in love with a Christian man in her early twenties.

“He proposed to her and she said no, mainly because she was so worried about what her family would think,” reveals Isaacs. Although aunt Nancy remains committed to the principle of marrying Jewish, her biggest regret is not having a family.

Eighty years on, the play suggests the pressure to marry within your faith and culture is just as strong. The action is punctuated by interview extracts from people of all faiths, who talk about loves lost, fought and hidden away.

“I spoke to one Jewish girl who fell in love with a Lebanese Christian guy and had to break up with him because she was so scared of what her parents would think,” says Isaacs. “Now she’s on JDate in her mid-30s – all her friends are married with babies. She might have said goodbye to the love of her life because of fear.”

Isaacs also tells the story of her Sikh hairdresser, who had a secret relationship with a Muslim for 12 years. “The girl’s parents would bring potential Sikh husbands round for dinner while she still had a boyfriend.

“A lot of my friends in north-west London would never marry out of Judaism, although some are atheists. What’s interesting is we can’t define why – we just think it’s wrong.”

Mush and Me poses the pertinent question: can two people of different faiths have a successful relationship? Although initially hesitant to answer, Isaacs reveals the play’s true message. “People should follow their hearts. You only live once!”

Turning to the more macabre, Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story explores the true story of one of the 20th century’s most chilling crimes.

In 1920s Chicago, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two wealthy Jewish law students with exceptional intelligence. Inspired by Nietzsche, the pair became obsessed with the desire to commit the perfect crime.

Premiering in Edinburgh after a five-starred London run, the hit musical based on this scenario tells the haunting story of an enigmatic duo who kidnapped, killed and buried a 14 year-old boy.

A scene from Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story

A scene from Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story

The story caused a media storm and has captivated audiences ever since, inspiring Hitchcock’s 1948 movie Rope, along with many other plays and novels. What is so fascinating, says director Guy Retallack, is the way that audiences relate to the warped pair.

“Despite the evil deed, there is some kind of humanity within them,” he explains. “It’s a very interesting question that has a universal application. You get absolutely pulled into it – the obsession with power and life and death interests all of us.”

There’s also another chance to watch this compelling show in London when it returns to the West End on the 29 and 30 August.

From the morbid to the surreal; St Joan takes a pivotal historical figure and reimagines her with an anarchic twist.

Three women play Joan of Arc in the post-modern fantasy St Joan

Three women play Joan of Arc in the post-modern fantasy St Joan

The real Joan of Arc was a heroine of France and Catholic saint burned at the stake by the English in 1431, at the age of 19. In the play, she is remodelled as a 21st-century black Jewish Londoner, who travels back to medieval France through African slavery and mass murder.

Central to the play is the question: Would a real saint have stopped the suffering?

The play’s author, Julia Pascal, describes it as a “satirical fantasy on re-writing history”, using an energetic mixture of cabaret, comedy and theatre, with three women playing Joan.

However, it also carries a very serious message. The work was first premiered in 1997, but Pascal decided to revive it after the recent rise of the French National Front.

“I have dark curly hair, and living in France I was taken to be an Arab,” she says. “When I said I was a Jew, I had quite a lot of racism against me. I was very aware of the need to write about racism, but to do it in a satirical way.”

“The French National Front sees Joan of Arc as a heroine of racism, because she booted the foreigner out. I see reclaiming the icon for the anti-racist side as a way of challenging them.”

WHEN & WHERE?

Mush and Me is on at the Underbelly, Cowgate from 31 July-25 August (not Mon 11) at 2:50pm

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story is on at C- Venue 34 (EH1 1HR) from 31 July-25 August (not Mon 11) at 8:55pm

St Joan is on at Venue 49, Bedlam Theatre from 2-24 August (not Tue 12) at 4:30pm

•For more info, visit www.edfringe.com