In Jewish tradition, Shabbat is a day of rest, ushered in just before sunset on Friday by the lighting of candles and reciting of several blessings. Kiddush is a blessing accompanied by wine or grape juice; afterwards, two loaves of challah bread are broken and a three-course meal follows. The role of the female family members cannot be underestimated; Shabbat itself is depicted as a queen in Jewish prayer, while women have responsibility for much of the evening, from lighting the candles to preparing the meal.

It’s fitting then, that Jess Bellamy conceived Shabbat Dinner originally as a chamber piece to emphasise the feminine. With director Anthony Skuse, she has recruited several strong women to assist her in the evening’s performance. Olivia Stamboullah’s family hails from Syria via the Sudan, while Kirsty Marillier emigrated from South Africa with her family at the age of ten. Not all involved are Jewish: Stamboullah and Marillier both learned a commendable level of Hebrew over the week prior to the show. However this is a story that is about so much more than a religious tradition: it’s a story about women, about family and about suffering and survival across generations and countries.


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