Time Out Melbourne

A new play from Lally Katz about the fabled Prague golem of 1580. The show’s leading lady, Yael Stone, sat down with Time Out to talk about ritual, mystery and mud.

The publicity shot of you for this production is intriguing—will there be mud in the actual show?
Gee, you’d hope there would be some mud.

A little mud? Or a lot of mud?
I’m not sure I’m allowed to answer that! What I can tell you is that I’m not naked and I’m not covered in mud.

We’ve been misled! I guess that photo was taken a while back.
Yeah. I had hair back then.

I thought something was different—
I cut it off for a show I did [Neil Armfield’s The Diary of a Madman]. That was a really big move for me. But it’s starting to grow back.

It’s not so severe—
It was skin for a long time. I just saw pictures of it recently and realised how full on it looked. I mean, I understood it was extreme at the time, but looking at it again now, was like, whoa.

But it actually works beautifully in this show because my character is very new in the world. So the shorn hair is actually really good: she’s kind of purified.

So tell us about your character—
I should say that any assumption that I am the golem of the story is incorrect. That assumption should not be made.

I am a woman who wakes up with epic amnesia. She has just these tiny fragments of a memory, not a real memory at all.

She wakes up in this very Jewish world, in a synagogue. The political context is one of a blood libel, the accusation that Jewish people use the blood of Christian children to make matzos. Traditionally, a pogrom would follow such an accusation, a huge purging of the Jewish ghetto. So this strange girl arrives in the middle of all that.

I guess, for me, at the moment, this play is very much about self-knowledge. And it’s hard. It hurts to know yourself.

It’s a pretty impressive creative team—
Yeah, and that includes Lally Katz, who has been a huge part of the rehearsal process. She kind of insists all the time on being in the room when she’s working on her own plays, and she has a huge amount of input.

What has Lally’s influence been like?
I’m totally in love with her. I really am. She’s pretty much my girlfriend. I am useless without her. I think she’s incredible. Her craft is so, so subtle, sometimes so subtle that people don’t realise that it’s there. But it is so strong. She knows exactly what she’s doing. She has incredible idiosyncrasies, both in her narrative and in her text. Sometimes there are things that seem like mistakes to a lot of people, and people try to iron them out. Never do that with Lally Katz.

I think in all her work it’s this kind of double helix of the domestic and the epic. I think that this happens again and again with the stuff that she writes. So pitching anything she writes in terms of tone is really difficult, but really amazing when you get it right.

What about working with Michael Kantor?
Early on he was there to be our audience, to remind us that we have an audience. He’s really sensitive to that, to the fact that theatre is not for itself, that theatre is for an audience, for enjoyment. I think he’s really conscious of his audience.

We were talking the other day about domestic plays, and he said, in the seven years we were running this place, we never put a show on about people in their relationships. And I think that that says a lot about him, because his world is in dreaming and ritual and, maybe, more deeply buried human things. I think that’s maybe why the richness of the synagogue appeals to him, that Jewish tradition. I get the sense that he likes things with history and weight.

In what ways do the “dreaming” and “ritual” of the Jewish tradition affect your character?
Before we started, I was really getting into my Jewishness and reading a lot more. I went to Prague and to the synagogue from the story. And I’m so glad I went. But when I got into the rehearsal room, I was like, oh, none of that stuff applies to me. Like, it’s really important, but none of it applies to my character.
She looks at ritual as like a secret that people are keeping from her. Like, she doesn’t know how to pray and they’re all praying around her, talking to some God that she can’t feel. So, yeah, ritual sort of in a way represents everything that she can’t feel.

And there’s going to be singing?
Lots of singing. And I have to sing quite a lot, which is really scary.

Are you a singer?
Nup. I’m not a singer. And we don’t have any accompaniment, because it’s like a synagogue, and in the synagogue you don’t have any accompaniment. We were going to have a piano on stage, and then they were just like, hey, let’s be really bold and not use any accompaniment.

First published on . Updated on .

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