Holy Sh!t is about middle class problems. Two sets of parents desperate to get their kids into the decent Church of England school. Alexis Zegerman deals with slippery morals in a world of Ocado and Sunday morning papers. The school where one father is nominated for a teaching award is good enough for his pupils but a terrible prospect for his own little darling. It’s part of mentality that says: rules don’t apply to people like us. If we fake religion to get little Milly into St Marys then we’re just doing the best for our child. And of course, there’s no racism and antisemitism here. Not in this Guardian reading household, it’s just a joke for fucks sake our best friends are Jewish and my husband is black so how dare you even suggest that I…
It’s also a play about legacies and religion. The traditions that we hold onto and those that sneak through. How what lies beneath creates fissures in the smooth surface we make for ourselves and how our new identities disrupt it. Like a seed dropped into the cracks of paving slabs spreads out roots and fractures the road ahead.
You know a hell of a lot about saints my husband says as we walk around Rome – go one tell me how this one was horribly martyred. I think about mum taking down the Saint Francis and Jesus woodcuts from above my bed. We’re not going to church anymore, it’s a shame because I’m shit hot at catechism.
The opening night protest outside the lovely shiny new Kiln theatre is about middle class problems. Of all the hills to choose to die on, it seems some people are very arsed about a name change. It’s also a protest about legacy and feeling that this change somehow also represents loss. We hang on to names, to rituals and ideals because they give us a sense of who we are. When those are challenged or changed, its often easier to push to preserve the symbolic certainty they represent to us than to ask ourselves why they mattered in the first place.
I don’t believe in hell but I still feel guilty.
Juliet (Claire Goose) cares that Simone (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) is going to church. She tells herself and her husband Nick (Daon Broni) it’s because Simone is denying her Jewishness whilst she herself is a ‘true’ Christian. As her resentment builds, its foundations become more blurred. There’s the competition between her daughter and Simone’s for that coveted school place but also something darker and less concrete. Goose and Myer-Bennett circle each other with dinner party chat that’s always a bit barbed – playground pinches that hurt. The characters are constantly scrabbling to re-draw the lines between us and ‘them’. They pretend not to see each other’s difference in order to avoid having to empathise with their whole experience.
I’m the only friend whose come to my friend’s engagement celebration at her conservative synagogue. A woman sat next to me keeps helping me find my place in the siddur. I can’t read it and I don’t sing but that doesn’t stop her fingers working through the thin pages so that I can keep up.
Other reviews have pulled out how Zegerman’s dialogue coupled with Indu Rubasingham domestic tableau direction has the feel of a sitcom. This can make for flat viewing but also unsettles our gaze. We see something we know – middle class nice people reveal their thinly veiled anger and sourness in a living room cum kitchenette where someone, at some point will almost certainly offer a cheese board (see: God of Carnage, The Open House, Consent…). Its sprinkled with the low stakes comedy of TV family dramas Outnumbered, Motherland – a touch of Friday Night Dinner. But there’s a real nastiness and spite that catches us off guard.
We’ve run out of booze at the party. I go to grab my champagne from the fridge only to find its gone. ‘It’s ok Croydon girl, you don’t have to pretend you brought a bottle’ the host’s friend laughs at me. I stare and realise I’ve never met this person. At some point before I was here they talked about me and this is what they call me. One minute ago I was one of them and now I’m not.
This tension is nearly enough but there’s a need for explosion and offering it at the end of act one only to snatch it away after we return from the interval feels frustrating. The responsibility falls once more to the person of colour to point out white people wankerdom. It’s very watchable but feels a cop out.
The characters hold onto ghosts of beliefs – sitting shiva, Yoruba naming ceremonies, Sunday school, despite their modern secular ideals. There is a responsibility to our children in what we choose to pass on and what might be seen as indoctrination. How what we don’t know can be frightening but really none of us know what the fuck we are doing, how to raise our kids or why we’re on this rock in the solar system.
I’m showing my niece how the earth orbits the sun by waltzing with her round the sofa. ‘See, we turn and the sun stays still. We’re the ones moving’. She probably won’t remember this but hopefully she’s gets the idea that we keep dancing forward.
Holy Sh!t is on at Kiln Theatre until 6th October. More info here.