A Dark Night in Dalston *** a night of discovery @ParkTheatre that will keep you guessing

Some years back, I interviewed for radio Rabbi Jonathan Black, making a cameo appearance in East Enders conducting a Jewish wedding. Not a viewer, I duly researched by watching an omnibus edition and learned how you ‘gotta talk’! (Non-Orthodox) Jewish playwright Stewart Permutt, did his research by consulting a Charedi friend. So there’s a real authenticity about his protagonist Gideon – what brands of bread and crisps he can eat (Kingsmill and Walkers) and what he cannot drink from (glass).

Permutt has form writing strong female characters, often for well-known TV stars – Lesley Joseph, Celia Imrie and the much-missed Miriam Karlin.

His latest play was specially commissioned by Eastenders and Coronation Street star, Michelle Collins, who was actually born in Hackney. Collin’s maternal grandfather was a Belgian Jew who moved to Wales to escape the Holocaust. Having played the confused mother Evelyn in Diane Samuels’ Kindertransport, Collins searched for another dramatic stage role. So she proactively commissioned a play with a juicy part for herself.

The resulting two-hander is a present-day drama set in the East End flat of Collins’ character Gina, a feisty, friendly ex-nurse living on a Dalston council estate, whose days are filled caring for her partner, bed-bound after a stroke. When young Orthodox Jew Gideon (Joe Coen), is beaten up one Friday night on her doorstep, Gina takes him in. But Shabbat has begun and this strictly observant Jew can’t travel home to Stanmore, so he is forced to spend the night with her, a night during which they find themselves drawn to each other as regrets about their lives emerge.



Tim Stark directs this dark comedy exploring the “madness of the human condition”, as he says, with a sensitive ear for the dialogue so that the evolving emotional conflict is genuinely involving. Simon Shaw’s set beautifully evokes (now ex) Council flats, with their signature external landings. However, it’s a challenge to sustain dramatic tension over a scenario that doesn’t evolve sufficiently during its playing time, so it might benefit from losing a few of its 105 minutes.

Collins and Coen admirably inhabit their characters despite gaps in their development over the drama’s duration. Collins convincingly captures the conflicted Gina, and her small-screen acting is well suited to the intimate Park90 space. Joe Coen, fresh from The Mighty Walzer and Bad Jews, invests Gideon with that curious mix of self-righteousness and self-knowing often seen in the ultra-orthodox of whatever religion. Their final scenes together are touching, bringing out the common bonds shared by the characters and the chemistry between the actors.

A Dark Night in Dalston is a good night out, given enough good will and patience to discover Gina and Gideon’s deep-seated needs and hopes.

by Judi Herman

Photos by Helen Murray

to 1 April: 7.45pm (Mon-Sat), 3.15pm (Thu & Sat only). £18, £16.50 concs.

Park Theatre, N4 3JP. 020 7870 6876.www.parktheatre.co.uk

 

Review: TAU film students’ shorts are long on talent and originality at the 10th anniversary showcase

Roads by Lior Geller

This was the 10th anniversary of the Tel Aviv University (TAU) Trust’s gala UK showcase for students of The Steve Tisch School of Film & Television. Almost every Israeli film produced in the last 10 years has been made by alumni of the school and the evening gives an opportunity for four aspiring filmmakers to show their developing talent in a series of shorts.

This year the chosen films represent not only life in contemporary Israel for both Arabs and Jews, but also a documentary and a surrealist feature. There’s no doubting the creativity and originality of the work and it’s not surprising that previous entries and their directors have gone on to be recognised internationally.

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JR OutLoud: Debbie Chazen, the only Jewish Calendar Girl, talks about her new musical The Girls


First it was a play, then a film and now Calendar Girls has been made into a musical – already nominated for several Olivier Awards – with book and lyrics  by Tim Firth, who wrote the play and co-wrote the film script (with Juliette Towhidi), and music by Gary Barlow.

The Girls tells the true story of members of a Yorkshire branch of the Women’s Institute who had the idea of posing for a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research, when the husband of one of the girls became ill and died from the disease.

As all the girls of the title are nominated jointly for an Olivier Award, Judi Herman spoke to Debbie Chazen, who has the distinction of being the only Jewish ‘girl’, as well as the only one who appeared in the original stage play.

Photo by Matt Crockett, Dewynters

The Girls runs until Saturday 15 July. 7.30pm (Tue-Sat), 2.30pm (Thu & Sat, plus Tue from 25 Apr). £29.50-£69.50. Phoenix Theatre, WC2H 0JP. 0844 871 7627.        www.phoenixtheatrelondon.co.uk

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JR OutLoud: Bulgarian-born Dora Reisser tells her life story, from child refugee to prima ballerina and beyond

It’s Dora Reisser’s ability to reinvent herself – from child refugee to prima ballerina, actor, screen star and fashion designer – and in such nail-biting circumstances, that makes her memoir, Dora’s Story, so gripping.  Judi Herman visited Reisser at her remarkable London home (it used to be a railway station) to hear more of the stories behind her book, which begins with the little-known history of how Bulgaria’s Jews survived the Holocaust; and about her life in the UK and Israel, including an eye-opening account of how she started her Reisser fashion house – just one of the many new stories Reisser has that could fill a sequel.

Dora’s Story by Dora Reisser is out on Troubador. £9.99. www.troubador.co.uk

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Review: The Wild Party ★★★★ – Loud, lively and lovely, The Wild Party lives up to its name

What better way to open The Other Palace (formerly St James Theatre) than with a wild party? Michael John LaChiusa’s musical takes on Joseph Moncure March’s 1920s poem and paints an unglamorous picture of the dissolute decade with a cast of unsympathetic and pitiless characters. Guys and Dolls it ain’t!

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Review: That’s Jewish Entertainment ★★★ – Much to discover and enjoy in a canter from cantor to cabaret

There was a terrific compilation movie that took the title of much-loved song That’s Entertainment (written by Jewish duo Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz for the MGM film The Band Wagon) to celebrate the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio’s prodigious output; celebrating songs by Jewish composers and lyricists written for films produced by a studio founded and run by the eponymous Jewish entertainment moguls. Producer Katy Lipson proves her love and knowledge of “the magic of the musical” by touring her show The MGM Story this February. So in a way That’s Jewish Entertainment is a given, but there’s still so much to discover and enjoy as four talented performers and a four-strong band give their all to entertaining Yiddish style and tracing the trajectory of Jewish entertainment from shtetl to showbiz.

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JR OutLoud: Dutch artist Sira Soetendorp discusses the family portraits in her exhibition Vanished Families

Following a visit to Auschwitz in 2012, Sira Soetendorp felt a deep need to preserve the memory of all the lost family members. The Dutch artist used carved outlines drawn in oil paint to fashion portraits based on family photographs, which make up her exhibition Vanished Families. Here she discusses the exhibit with JR’s Arts Editor Judi Herman, plus you will hear Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, Sira’s husband and Emeritus Rabbi of the Hague, who is an award-winning human rights advocate.

Vanished Families runs until Monday 27 February at Etz Chayim Gallery, Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue, HA6 3AA. 019 2382 2592. Viewing by appointment: caroleannek17@gmail.com. www.npls.org.uk/etzchayim.htm

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Review: Death Takes a Holiday ★★★ – Magic realism in 1920s Italy makes for a haunting musical

Lush romantic stories are bread and butter to composer/lyricist Maury Yeston, and he writes scores to match. His elegiac music conjures time and place and whether the place is the doomed Titanic ocean liner or Grand Hotel Berlin 1928, the first half of the 20th century seems to be his preferred time.

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Review: Denial ★★★★ – Fine performances prove attack is the best form of defence to demolish Holocaust denial

Hitler apologist David Irving would have loved to have his day – or days – in court face to face with Deborah Lipstadt, the historian he sued for libel for labelling him “one of the most dangerous spokesmen of Holocaust denial”. It is more a strength than a weakness of the film charting Irving’s high-profile defeat by Lipstadt’s team of lawyers that Lipstadt herself maintains a dignified ‘silence in court’.

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Review: Promises, Promises ★★★ – The swinging 60s live up to their name in a musical with pedigree  

With its stellar writing team – music and lyrics Burt Bacharach and Hal David, book Neil Simon (based on Billy Wilder’s screenplay for hit comedy The Apartment) – this musical set in early 60s New York is as lovable and eager to be loved as any pedigree pup. It boasts a hero of self-deprecating charm in Chuck Baxter, insurance company junior and wannabe executive dining room key holder. Happily for Chuck, he already holds the keys to a Manhattan studio apartment, discreet walking distance from the office. Jaded middle-aged senior executives aspire to these keys to happiness in their turn for the odd hour’s dalliance with their very personal assistants before they go home to their wives. Chuck seems to hold the keys to his own advancement – the promises are the promotion his superiors offer in return.

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