Lime interview - Theatre
Rikki Beadle Blair and Shalom Baby
The multitalented Rikki Beadle Blair discusses his latest production Shalom Baby.
Rikki beadle Blair is a man with a mission. Not only is he directing his new play Shalom Baby at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, he is also squeezing in designing the set and composing the music.
In between chatting with the actors and spray painting the floor he manages to give me a little of his precious time to talk about his new play and the ongoing mill of creativity that is his life.
Articulate, passionate and incredibly humble, he was an absolute pleasure to interview and his play Shalom Baby certainly sounds every bit as dynamic and fascinating as the man himself.
What’s your new play Shalom Baby about?
It’s a play set in two time zones following two identical Jewish families. The family in the late 30s are already in the grip of Nazism in Berlin. For their Shabbat dinner as they’re not allowed to deal with Arians they hire a black guy as a Shabbes Goy, someone to perform all the tasks they’re not allowed to do on their Shabbat, and he and the daughter fall in love. So it’s about that love affair and how the family respond to them whilst the holocaust is growing around them.
Meanwhile in modern day Brooklyn, another family which is basically the original family reincarnated, are having issues with the eldest son who is a crack addict, and the they decide to have a Shabbat dinner to bring the family back together again and it’s all about the repercussions of what happens next.
Is the Shabbes Goy character German?
Yes, there were lots of mixed race Germans from the First World War; soldiers who stayed, married German women and had kids. In fact one of Hitler’s methods of ethnic cleansing was to round up the mixed race children, about 50 000 of them who he called the ‘Rhineland Bastards’ and have them all sterilised. But that didn’t happen to every black person in Germany. There were definitely black Germans, relatively rare, but still in the tens of thousands.
Digging into it as a play, every now and then I’d be assailed by the enormity of what it was I was looking at. I really wanted people to see that the Nazis are not just this anomaly; the Nazis learned all their ideas about concentration camps from us. They studied America for how to institute effective laws of segregation, we are not blameless in the rise of the holocaust, we were teachers and enablers.
Why did you choose to set the modern day family in America?
This play seems very different to a lot of your work. Are you trying to break into a new area as a playwright?
Are there any gay characters in this play?
There are, I didn’t think there was going to be at first. I cast first then I write the script, so the actors and I have these rambling conversations while I sample their DNA and create characters that will challenge them. We talked a lot about the range of people who were in the holocaust; gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses, communists, mentally ill people, disabled people, homosexuals and blacks of course. So it seemed an appropriate theme to put it in there. I thought it would be a really great opportunity to see how differently people do or don’t feel about themselves with seventy years difference, so sexuality does come into the play in very subtle and blatant ways.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Are you unafraid of yourself?
You’re a very busy man. Do you ever sleep?
Not busy enough, I like being awake! And when I’m awake I like to make art, and I’m very lucky that people will let me and get involved and encourage me.