So your late grandfather assumes the role of a fairly benign dybbuk (malevolent spirit) and enters the bodies of a variety of unsuspecting hosts, mostly Israeli (as we are mostly in Tel Aviv), to gee you up to right what he perceives as a historical wrong perpetrated during the 1940s in post-war Eastern Europe. It’s not quite on the same scale of the vengeance that, say, Hamlet’s father demands. All Grandfather’s co-survivor and landsman (person from the same village) has done is slope off when the pair are apprehended for trying to sell smuggled sugar on the black market, leaving Grandfather to face the music and two months in a Russian labour camp. But Grandfather is rankled in death, as in life, and now he’s spotted a chance to set the record straight, for the cowardly landsman’s historian of a grandson, Yoad Riva, is writing a book about his grandfather.
This is the clever, quirky premise of Gur Koren’s moving, funny chamber piece, which opens a window onto the past, to remind us that it is always with us, particularly in the case of second and third generation Holocaust survivors, and especially for Israelis.
On a day when the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported has risen again – and has, as usual, risen to the top of the news – it’s heartening to report on an evening that made an auditorium full of people of different backgrounds and ages laugh a lot together, as a bunch of talented Muslims and Jews mercilessly sent up both with great and good humour.
Ben Jonson’s scabrously and cruelly comic take on greed premiered to huge acclaim in 1605, the year of the Gunpowder Plot, and has remained his most popular play. Although it shares its exotic (especially in Jacobean England) Venice setting with two other plays in the current Royal Shakespeare Company season – The Merchant of Venice and Othello – the RSC is actually pairing it with Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (and a lesser known play, John Ford’s Love’s Sacrifice) calling them “contemporary takes on classic plays exploring the idea of the outsider”.
Sir Nicholas George Winton MBE 19 May 1909 – 1 July 2015
At the age of 106, Sir Nicholas Winton peacefully passed away in his sleep at Wexham Park Hospital on 1 July 2015. The poignant day also marked 76 years since 241 children – of the 669 Sir Nicky saved from Czechoslovakia – evacuated Prague by train. Sir Nicky was a true humanitarian; on the eve of the Second World War he instigated the Czech Kindertransport, which saw hundreds of children escape safely to homes that Sir Nicky had arranged for them in Britain. For this selfless act Czech President Miloš Zeman awarded Sir Nicky the highest honour of the Czech Republic, the Order of the White Lion (1st class).
In May 2003 I had the honour of meeting this extraordinary man. Sir Nicky was in his mid-90s at the time and I was lucky enough to be asked to make a feature for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour with Sir Nicky and the daughter of one of his “children”, pilot Judy Leden, a world champion microlight flyer. She had planned a very special treat for his 94th birthday – a spin in a microlite aircraft. It made Sir Nicky the oldest person to fly in a microlight and by doing so he raised money for one of his favourite charities, Abbeyfield, who provide housing and support for the elderly.
Recording their in-flight conversation as they circled his Berkshire home was quite a challenge, but a total joy. I got to record him at his home afterwards too and he was witty, charming and welcoming – a truly great human being.
Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella has always seemed uncannily prescient, first of life in Nazi-occupied Europe, then in the post-war Communist era. Now it assumes a whole new chilling significance in a 21st century full of mass media scrutiny, social media, online surveillance and CCTV.
Every year I’m impressed by the quality of short student films presented by the Tel Aviv University Trust. It’s delightful to see such tight storytelling in as little as 12 minutes. That’s the length of Kapunka (trailer above), the film that opened this year’s mini festival, and it set the benchmark high.