Producer Katy Lipson (Aria Entertainment) has a sure eye – and ear – for a hit musical. Between a summer of new musical theatre at The Other Palace, including Some Lovers, Burt Bacharach’s first for years, and the imminent autumn transfer of a sell-out immersive version of tribal rock musical Hair arriving at London’s Vaults from Manchester’s Hope Mills Theatre, comes this West End transfer of a musical that had a hugely successful first outing at Southwark Playhouse.
You almost certainly know the venture ends in failure and tragedy but what a gloriously exhilarating and entertaining evening JT Rogers makes of the journey. It’s 1991 and the US-sponsored Middle East Peace Conference is going nowhere, with the excluded PLO still ensconced in Tunis. Norwegian power couple Mona Juul, a diplomat posted to Cairo, and Terje Rod-Larsen, her foundation-running sociologist husband, get a chance to see first hand the conflict in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank.
If that title sounds ominous, Shechter told me in interview: “I wanted to capture a sense of our time…that out-of-control feeling that things are coming to an end. And how can this have a happy ending?” * Plus, in a programme note on what he does – or does not – expect of his audience: “It’s about what is happening to them in their head, how they feel, [not about getting] it right in some way.”
Welcome to Weismann’s Follies. Dmitri Weismann himself presides and the old gang of gorgeous gals are back for one last reunion in the theatre where they showed a leg and sang their hearts out between the wars, before it’s pulled down. It’s time to reminisce (cue for a song-list of glorious pastiches) and take stock of the ravages of the years – physical and emotional. So it’s equally the cue for a range of mould-breaking Sondheim numbers that excavate the regrets and neuroses eating away at the two couples centre-stage, former showgirls Sally and Phyllis and the stage-door johnnies, Buddy and Benjamin, whom they married. The genius of Sondheim and book-writer James Goldman is to intertwine and meld these two strands, building to a climax of ‘follies’ point numbers which become the expression of all that angst and heartache, one for each of the four, surprising, distinctive, appropriate and devastatingly revealing. The haunting of all the returnees by their younger selves, the girls in their gorgeous costumes and their stage door johnnies, acting out the past and observing their future, is another stroke of genius, another layer to this rich, complex show.
Chief examiner Mr Burgess, played with thrilling comic cruelty by Steven Pacey, sets his latest cohort of four would-be London Taxi drivers the task of committing to memory all 320 routes, 15,842 streets and all places of interest on the way within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. “No taxi driver in no other city in no other country in the world has to know a fraction of what you have to know. And not many brain surgeons neither.” The late Jack Rosenthal’s 1979 play for TV exploring the impact of this almost impossible challenge (70% drop-out rate then and some 25,000 streets now) is adapted for the stage by Simon Block and directed with comic verve by Rosenthal’s wife for 30 years Maureen Lipman, who appeared in the TV drama.
“Time it was, oh what a time it was” – as the lights went down, the poignant notes of what is for me one of Simon and Garfunkel’s most persistent earworms played in my head – and then echoed on stage to open a show that reminded me just how many earworms the pair gifted us.
Sam O’Hanlon and Charles Blyth work subtly together and with their stonking backing band to conjure the sound and look of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel without slavishly aiming to be look- and sound-alikes. Their role as narrators is important too, for this is billed as the folk duo’s story. We learn how these two Jewish boys met at their Queens, NY, elementary school, appearing together in the school production of Alice in Wonderland – Paul as the White Rabbit and Art the Cheshire Cat. The animal theme continued as they made their musical debut as Tom and Jerry, before using their own rather more memorable surnames.
Some fantastic shows are visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, plenty of which have a Jewish cultural interest. There are even a few that our Arts Editor Judi Herman has already reviewed from previous runs and spoken to creatives behind the productions in some cases, so we thought it’d be great to revisit those. Below you’ll find the listings info for Knock Knock, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, and Kafka and Son, as well as links to the theatre reviews and JR OutLoud podcasts.
The City ★★★★ – Israel’s Incubator Theatre makes its Edinburgh debut at Shalom – just three years after protests prevented it from being part of the Festival Fringe
One highlight of the International Shalom Festival is the return to Edinburgh of Jerusalem’s Incubator Theatre with their hip-hop opera The City, a clever homage to all those private dicks who walk the mean streets of the city trying to solve crime. The City is entirely written in rhyme, combining rap, hip-hop and spoken word to tell a tale of vanity, lust and murder. This is the company targeted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators in 2014, which meant they were unable to perform at the Fringe. So it’s all the more exciting and gratifying that they are at last making their proper Edinburgh debut. When JR’s Arts Editor Judi Herman saw The City at JW3, London, where it played three sold-out performances in the aftermath of the Edinburgh protests, she was inspired to write the following four-star review in rhyme.
Writer/performer Hadar Galron is the inspirational artistic director of the three-day-long International Shalom Festival taking place at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this month. Its mission is to “build cultural bridges and celebrate coexistence and peace” by bringing artists from both the Israeli and Palestinian communities to share a dialogue with visitors to the festival. Here she tells Judi Herman more about the packed three days of the Festival – and how she plans to combat anti-Israel protesters like BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) by shedding some real light in Edinburgh.
The International Shalom Festival runs Tuesday 8 – Thursday 10 August. Times vary. Donations on the door. Venue 340, Drummond Community High School, Edinburgh, EH7 4BS. www.shalomfestival.org
Silver Birch – a newly-commissioned community opera about the toll war takes on soldiers and their families – will be premiering at Garsington Opera near High Wycombe this weekend (28-30 July). Ahead of that Judi Herman spoke to novelist and journalist Jessica Duchen, who has written the libretto for composer Roxanna Panufnik’s score. The performance features the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and, in fact, Sassoon’s great-nephew Stephen Bucknill is one of the 180-strong company that includes local adults, school children, students, members of the local military community and even Foley artists, all appearing alongside professional singers. Judi spoke also to Stephen Bucknill; and to one of the 50 primary school children taking part, eight-year-old Maia Greaves, who shares the role of Chloe, the younger sister of Jack and Davey, the two soldiers at the heart of a story set in the present day, with echoes of the Great War provided by Sassoon’s poetry, and his ghostly presence onstage.
Silver Birch runs Friday 28 – Sunday 30 July. 7.30pm. £5. Garsington Opera, Wormsley Estate, HP14 3YE. 018 6536 1636. www.garsingtonopera.org