Dybbuk's dancing at the King's Head

By Lauren Krotosky - Thursday 24th 2008f January 2008

Eve Leigh

Most weddings revolve around fairytales, flowers and food. Will it be roses or violets? Chicken or beef? But what if the story turned sour, and the bride's last minute nerves were replaced with feelings of obsession?

The Dybbuk is one of the most famous plays in the history of Yiddish theatre. It regales the story of Leah’le, a young girl who becomes possessed by those very sentiments and shocks her village by inviting a dybbuk – a malicious possessing spirit – to dance with her on the eve of her arranged marriage.

The original play was based on years of research by S. Ansky, who travelled between Jewish shtetls in Russia and the Ukraine, documenting folk beliefs and stories of the Hassidic Jews. Now, hot new theatre talent Eve Leigh has seized the opportunity to direct and adapt a modern version of the play, which has just begun its 6-week season at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington. Here, she explains the ways in which she has altered it and why she chose to get involved with such a dark storyline.

“When I was thinking about my adaptation of The Dybbuk, I decided that I wanted to give it a gentle dramaturgical facelift,” she explains. “The original audience probably had more of an attention span to cope with, so while I am trying to remain true to the spirit of the play I am at the same time trying to bring it into the 21st century.”

New York-born Eve, 23, may be young but she has already built up a set of worthy credentials. She graduated from Cambridge in 2006 and immediately secured the role of Adrian Noble’s assistant on Summer and Smoke, first at the Nottingham Playhouse and later in London’s West End. Her other directing credits include Sweeney Todd at the Edinburgh Festival, and she also co-directed The Comedy of Errors in Cambridge and Sheffield. As a student, she directed 14 plays including The Iliad in a new adaptation by Will Simpson, The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, and Closer by Patrick Marber.

So after a string of theatre greats, what made her choose a rather unsavoury play like The Dybbuk? “To me, The Dybbuk has this wonderful blend of cultural specificity,” she explains. “It is basically about first love gone sour. Theatre can take you to someplace you have never gone before. What is so immensely exciting about theatre is that its rules are completely different to the rules of our society today.

“One of the things that I feel strongly about as a Jew is that it is rare to see Jews represented in ways unrelated to the Holocaust or Israel. Jewishness is sort of taken as read, and most Jews don’t see themselves as the exotic other. More generally, the play is about first love poisoned by the environment around it. It is about two people falling in adolescent love and becoming consumed by it, which is extraordinary to see.”

Does she speak any Yiddish herself? “I feel self-conscious saying that I speak Yiddish because I really don’t, but my father’s first language is Yiddish,” she says. “It is curious growing up in a home where elements of language seep into your everyday vocabulary and become a part of you.”

You often find that many people who work in the entertainment industry say that they expressed an inherent wish to work in it from a very early age, and Eve is no different. “One of the advantages of growing up in New York was that I got taken to the theatre all the time,” she muses. “I am so thrilled that it is my job now – I am not sure what I would have done otherwise!”

She says that her proudest moment to date is when she worked on a production of Closer while still a student. “There is this kind of wonderful intimacy that comes from working around the issue of love,” she says. “It is a detailed level of work and pretty wonderful to experience. I suppose I sort of find myself thinking a lot about subtle ways in which people exchange information, not just through words but through looks and gestures. I look at the subtle ways in which people find themselves doing things they don’t want to do or can’t control. I am also a movie fanatic – I love film noir and movies from the 30s and 40s. I did a history degree and I still read a lot of history books”.

So what’s next on Eve’s agenda? “The play that I most want to direct is an American one called Eurydice’s, which is another play about love,” she says. “It is the retelling of the author Eurydice’s story in the underworld. I want to work with people I respect on plays that I love, and am hoping to get more work like The Dybbuk. It has been amazing doing it, an absolute pleasure. I am loving working with the cast, especially with Edward Hogg. There is a wonderful mood in the rehearsal room, which is really exciting for me. I would be lucky to do something like this again.”

The Dybbuk is showing at the King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1QN from 18 January – 24 February. Tickets are priced £10-20. For more information, call the box office on 020 7226 1916 or visit www.kingsheadtheatre.org.