Marty Feldman features as the world’s favourite Jewish vampire in one of my favourite sketches ever, with the punchline, “Oi, have you got troubles,” when the vampire hunter holds up his cross. He was the writer/comedian with the wild hair and staring eyes, the result of a botched operation for Graves’ disease, though they stood him in good stead as the creator of some of the funniest characters ever seen on small or big screen. Think ‘Young’ Frankenstein’s hunchbacked henchman Igor in Mel Brooks’ movie. Indeed he is sort of undead in Robert Ross’s new biodrama, directed by Feldman’s old mucker and lifelong admirer, Terry Jones. It opens with silent film titles on a screen at the back (in appreciation of Feldman’s appearance in another Mel Brooks film, Silent Movie), announcing ‘three years’ dead’, then two, then six months, each title accompanied by the appearance of a ghostly luminescent skull in a glass case, until Feldman is alive again and not so much kicking as contorting – for he is indeed in Igor mode, complete with hunchback prosthetic.
Howard Jacobson was writing J, a novel about a dystopic (non-) Jewish future, when publisher Hogarth invited him to join a relay team retelling Shakespeare in contemporary settings. He was assigned The Merchant of Venice – an inspired choice that allowed him to tell the story from Shylock’s perspective. But Jacobson’s blinder, proving again his extraordinary inventiveness, is to have Shylock slip into present-day Cheshire to share the narrative with his 21st-century counterpart Simon Strulovitch, and chew over his own story as told by Shakespeare.
Shylock arrives without fanfare as the story opens, not in Venice but in a bleak Jewish cemetery in Manchester, the city where Jacobson was raised. He is communing with his long-dead wife Leah, “buried deep beneath the snow”. So Shylock engages the reader’s sympathy: within this take on the play is a meditation on loss, as well as scabrous satire on the materialistic celebrity denizens of Cheshire’s ‘Golden Triangle’.
Adapted by Hershey Felder from the book The Children of Willesden Lane, by Los Angelean pianist Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, this is the true story of Golabek’s mother, Lisa Jura. As a young Jewish pianist Jura’s dreams about her Vienna concert debut were shattered by the Nazis in the 1938 Anschluss like the glass of Kristallnacht, as her family bravely placed her on the Kindertransport to London.
Photo © Scott Rylander
In the mid-1970s Albert and David Maysles – first-generation sons of Jewish immigrants to the US from Eastern Europe – made Grey Gardens, one of their most famous films. The documentary told the story of a mother and daughter from the highest echelons of US Society, Edith and Edie Bouvier Beale, who were the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The two Bouvier Beale women were discovered living as reclusive social outcasts in Grey Gardens, a dilapidated mansion overrun by cats that was so squalid the Health Department deemed it “unfit for human habitation”.
Adapted by Hershey Felder from the book The Pianist of Willesden Lane, by Los Angelean pianist Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, this is the true story of Mona’s mother, Lisa Jura, a young Jewish pianist whose dreams about her Vienna concert debut are shattered by the Nazis in the 1938 Anschluss like the glass of Kristallnacht, as her family bravely places her on the Kindertransport to London. Golabek plays live on a concert grand in this moving one-woman show, the London run of which coincides with Holocaust Memorial Day on Wednesday 27 January. Judi Herman talks to Golabek about The Pianist of Willesden Lane to coincide with its UK premiere.
Manchester-born filmmaker Gary Sinyor makes his theatre debut with NotMoses, an irreverent retelling of the Exodus story – starting with the baby the Princess leaves floating on the Nile when she spots Moses, a nicer baby. NotMoses grows up a slave in Prince Moses’ shadow, until God orders both of them to lead the Israelites out of bondage – though it takes feisty Miriam to actually lead the Exodus. Think Life of Brian meets The Ten Commandments, which Sinyor says is a comparison he hears often.
“I think it’s because there is only one other biblical comedy, Mel Brooks’ History of the World. But it is more like The Life of Brian because History of the World went through the ages and this is very much centred on the Exodus from Egypt.”