Howard Katz

Patrick Marber
National Theatre's Cottesloe
(2001)

Patrick Marber's new play comprises the dizzying fall of its eponymous hero from successful showbiz agent and family man. At the start, he is a man who has found his prime at 50. He has a loving wife and son and a proud East End Jewish father and mother; everything that he could want really.

There is a hole at his centre though. Maybe this is because he has forsaken his religion, having avoided synagogues since his barmitzvah. He constantly appeals to and rails against God. He also does the same to almost everyone that he meets getting through twelve assistants in six months. Representing the losers of the acting profession eventually seems to get to him.

The midlife crisis and near breakdown that he suffers are shown in graphic detail as step by step he loses all his worldly goods. Ron Cook is very impressive, especially as Katz despairs and tries to find some kind of meaning to his life.

The play veers between comedy and near tragedy and while Marber directs his actors well and creates an almost comicbook effect as people move into and out of Katz' life, he also sometimes gets dangerously close to caricaturing the supporting cast. Having said that, sometimes real people are dreadfully like caricatures.

This play is worth seeing for a very good performance by Cook and some strong support especially by Trevor Peacock as his father and also in a number of bit parts. It also gives an insight into the struggles of a secular Jew who is losing himself in an increasingly irreligious society. At one point, Katz is likened to The Wandering Jew, a man condemned to be lost forever.

Whilst the play is funny in parts and portrays Katz well, there seemed no reason why a different director wouldn't have cut it rather more than Marber has to give the protagonist's struggle more focus and possibly greater meaning.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher