I should have been prepared, going to a play about sex, money and love, that there would be condoms involved. Indeed with a title like The Rubber Merchants (directed by Asia Sosis), one would expect it. However, nothing prepared me for the sheer amount of condoms (ten thousand in theory, but in reality probably less than a hundred), spilling out of battered guitar cases, thrown about with wild abandon, and lost amongst the Styrofoam peanuts that cover the stage of the Old Red Lion Theatre.
We follow Yohanan, Bella, and Shmuel as they dance around one another, all of them with an agenda, none of them able to close the deal. Bella (Hadas Kershaw), a pharmacist, wants love and security but has been disappointed before by men who promise the world and never deliver. She runs into Yohanan (Tom Dayton) when he comes to buy condoms from her pharmacy and sets her sights on marriage. Yohanan is pathetic, greasy, snivelling, and a five-second wonder but he does have sixty grand in the bank. Shmuel (Joseph Emms) on the other hand is charming and debonair but ultimately broke with poor health. Bella and Shmuel obviously have a thing for each other but Bella isn’t impressed by the fact that Shmuel’s only inheritance is ten thousand condoms from his deceased father which he attempts to hawk to both Yohanan and Bella.
Even with the small cast The Rubber Merchants still provides varied characters, indeed Bella seems to have about two, constantly changing from a soft woman in want of love to a shrewd manipulator. Hadas Kershaw’s performance as Bella provides the solid backbone of the play however it is Joseph Emms as Shmuel who really shines. At his best on his own or interacting with Kershaw, even his charm fades when up against Tom Dayton’s Yohanan. This is perhaps not Dayton’s fault as Yohanan is truly a dull character, something which Dayton portrays perfectly.
Funny for the majority of the time, hilarious often, the play does falter in the second half as it heads towards the tragic end of the tragifarce. Indeed it could really do with being about thirty minutes shorter. Although the interminability is the overarching message of the plot, it’s more enjoyable in theory rather than in person. The songs on the other hand are a delight. Catchy, boppy, and performed by the strong vocal talent of Kershaw and Emms, they are accompanied by the fabulous lighting design of Nat Green. My only quibble is that there aren’t more of them.
Overall, The Rubber Merchants provides an entertaining night for those of us who are more inclined to experimental theatre or even someone who is just looking for something a bit different. Indeed, it would probably be even more entertaining if you drag your friends along and make them sit in the front row, as a bit of audience participation can be expected.
The Rubber Merchants is at The Old Red Lion Theatre until 29th January 2022