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Home arrow Archive: EdFringe 2013 arrow Secrets of the Elders of Zion
Secrets of the Elders of Zion
Published on Monday, 12 August 2013

3 stars

Paradise in The Vault (venue website)
5-11, 13-18, 20-26 Aug, 3:05pm-3:55pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

First things first: just in case you don’t recognise it, the title of this show is a riff on the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion. The Protocols are a notorious hoax, which claim to be a factual record of a Jewish plan to establish hegemony over the world. The Nazi Party taught it in schools; it’s said to underpin a substantial amount of modern-day anti-semitism, and it is, of course, completely untrue. In short, this is a particularly edgy title to give to your show – and I assure you that performer Hayden Cohen, who is Jewish, knows that too.

But the concept underpinning Cohen’s show – a genuinely multi-disciplinary act, which merges video, stand-up and song – is a magnificently daring one.  If there really is a secret Jewish cabal intent on taking over the world, he says, then it’s a scandal that nobody’s invited him to join it.  So he’s taken it on himself to set up the UK branch; he’s armed himself with an agenda and some motivational PowerPoint slides, and he’s invited us all to the inaugural meeting of his new world-domination club.

Sadly though, Cohen never comes close to living up to the controversy of that idea.  The start is promising – a mournful gallop through 2,000 years of Jewish history, which often left me wondering whether it was really OK to laugh at the jokes – but the middle section feels extremely safe, a little too unwilling to provoke genuine discomfort.  I didn’t know quite what to expect from a show called Secrets of the Elders of Zion, but it wasn’t some gentle puns and an (admittedly highly creative) routine with a bagel.

There were a few highlights, all the same.  A song about gematria – a similar concept to bible codes – successfully highlighted how ridiculous it is to find meaning in something that can be explained by coincidence.  Cohen makes an excellent and piquant point when he remarks that, if there is a conspiracy to promote the Jewish people, then historically it hasn’t gone all that well.  And he raises the stakes with an entertaining hip-hop number that dares reclaim the Y-word… but just as I was warming up for some genuinely challenging material, the show came to an end.

Ultimately, I feel that Secrets Of The Elders Of Zion hasn’t quite decided what it wants to be.  If it’s a light-hearted look at the idiosyncrasies of Cohen’s culture, then I think it’s a bit too distracting to put it in such a weighty and portentous frame.  Or if it is going to cast us as members of a secret cabal, in order to demonstrate just how preposterous that myth is, then it needs to be a whole lot darker.  That said though, Cohen has a fine command of both words and music, and I genuinely believe that he has a lot of interesting things to tell us about his cultural history… I’m afraid he simply hasn’t chosen the right way to say them.

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