Gavin Kostick’s new play is a companion piece to his earlier, award-winning drama, The Ash Fire, which told the story of a group of Polish immigrants arriving in Ireland.
Here, we learn about the foundation of the Belfast Jewish community through Lev, who arrived with his brother Saul from Latvia. They hoped for New York, landed in Hull and set up home in Belfast — Lev working with a local furniture maker, and Saul as a cantor, singing in the synagogue.
Kostick’s series of monologues sees three other characters take the spotlight — Hannah, Lev’s wife, Sissy, her youngest child, and Bill, her grandson, a casualty of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in America.
The play is performed in the heart of Belfast’s Jewish community — the Synagogue — on Yom Kippur, the Jewish festival of forgiveness. Each character speaks about the things they wish to atone for, and their stories are not just about the Jewish community here, but about the city itself. But the beating heart of Kostick’s play is a tale of unrequited love, for which there can be no atonement.
It’s a shame there is no interaction between the characters — we long to hear how their words and histories sounded to each other. Yet perhaps their isolation highlights their need for forgiveness. Kostick’s script covers a lot of ground, like a literary history lesson. But by the end of the evening the story of Lev and his family is as haunting as the soaring voice of Alan Burke’s Saul.