Winner of the Critics Choice Wildfire Award Exeter Ignite 2014 and awarded the ‘Intellect’ postgraduate prize for public engagement 2013
Coffee with Vera is a solo performance in the form of a coffee morning. It tells stories about identity and heritage of the Plymouth Synagogue – the oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English speaking world. The character of Vera Jockleson was created by researching the female voices in the congregation, she co-hosts a coffee morning with Ruth and recounts how this form of social gathering was a monthly event for the Ladies Guild. Through Vera we hear of past events whilst Ruth tries to connect her own history to the vestry by searching for possible Jewish relatives.
Belinda Dillon’s Wildfire Review June 2014
On the set of Little Dorrit in 1987-practically her first job out of drama school- Ruth Mitchell met the peerless character actor Miriam Margolyes. As they both sat in the ‘make-up removal’ room (key to creating the film’s authentic Dickensian aesthetic), Miriam scrutinised Ruth before asking, “Jewish?” To Ruth’s denial, Miriam replied, “With that name – and that face- you should be!”
And so began Ruth’s investigation into whether the girl who should be Jewish could be Jewish, leading her from records offices to censuses to ancestry.com, from personal memory through family myth to the creative springboard of ‘what if…’ to the vestry of Exeter Synagogue, where she shares with us her story over coffee and home-baked cake. Using photographs and marriage certificates, recipe books and playbills pulled out from a suitcase in front of her – and via the character of Vera Jockleson, Chair of the Ladies Guild and consummate coffee morning hostess- Ruth fuses autobiography and history to create a subtly moving meditation on the nature of identity and heritage. Seamlessly entwined is a fascinating insight into the Plymouth Synagogue and the Jewish diaspora in the South West.
This quiet piece is at its most powerful when Mitchell is herself, guiding us through her story with warmth and humour, especially when the desire for a fresh start or the cruelties of persecution have necessitated slippages that are hard to trace.
Coffee with Vera was practice as research for Ruth’s MRes in Theatre & Performance at Plymouth University
‘Ruth Mitchell delivers a masterclass in how autobiographical work can tell a deeply personal story while drawing in the wider world and experience, and without a hint of self-indulgence’ Belinda Dillon, Exeunt Magazine
“Really moving, she holds that space with humour and warmth and it’s a really wonderful piece of work…something that was done so simply and so honestly, and that made it beautifully authentic to me…” Culture & Review Show, Phonic FM