Dybbuks (Theatre Works) – theatre review

Desire, death and possession feature in Dybbuks. This obtuse world premiere is performed in English and Yiddish. Samara Hersch directs the work for Chamber Made, as well as writing the piece.

The play draws its title from Yiddish mythology. Dybbuks are unresolved souls who seek form through living bodies. Four actors are accompanied by a Jewish choir, a vocalist and three instrumentalists – on violin, clarinet and keyboard.

Seating is arranged around a central square surrounded by plastic strips. In the middle of the stage area are two intertwined bodies covered by veils. A woman has to come to terms with the death of a loved one as her wedding day approaches. She is struggling. She can’t bear to celebrate her nuptials without him there.

Next we are at a bath used for ritual immersion ahead of her big day. She fully immerses herself in the warm water several times. The bride-to-be is carefully watched by a dutiful attendant, who spends a considerable time scrubbing the pristine white tiles that surround the bath. The choir chants; the haunting strains of the instruments ring out. Next, tortured sounds accompany the thrashing woman. A veil is thrown over her and suddenly the writhing turns to unbridled lust. More guttural sounds emerge and suddenly we witness a death ritual. Members of the choir place stones on a grave, symbolising the permanence of memory. Distressing, unearthly noises that accompany the piece appear to a suggest a malevolent spirit has intervened.

Dybbuks is deeply perplexing, at times disturbing, but also evocative and alluring. Emotion, fear and ritual drive the piece. The musical refrains – Jewish staples – range from the beautiful Donna, Donna to the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Dybbuks is a mind bender – a production for selective tastes who desire more than readily digestible narrative. It plays at Theatre Works in St Kilda until 26 August 2018.

Alex First

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