Shimon Peres was the ‘almost’ man of Israeli politics who was expected to win, but always lost. He was prime minister for a few months in 1977 after Yitzhak Rabin’s resignation and then for a similar period following Rabin’s assassination in 1995. His longest time in office as prime minister was in the national unity government with the Likud from 1984-86. He was expected to succeed Yitzhak Shamir in 1990 but then was thwarted by a last minute about-turn by Charedi politicians on orders from their rebbes. He was then expected to defeat Netanyahu in 1995, but the advent of Hamas’s suicide bombers put paid to that hope. Even when he stood for president in 2001, the walkover never happened and Moshe Katsav succeeded to the post instead. Peres only became president in 2007. Such an unprecedented string of disappointments would have crushed most politicians.
Often at shiva prayers it strikes me how much the late-lamented might have enjoyed the gathering of nearest and dearest, but would they have enjoyed the eulogies? Might they not have confessed (or complained) “that’s not the real me, warts and all”? David Baddiel goes further in his scurrilous tribute to his late mother, who died suddenly in 2014. He confides in his audience that Sarah Baddiel loved not only being centre stage, but also a bearded, pipe-smoking golf salesman for 20 years – apparently unnoticed by her husband, even wangling him an invitation to David’s bar mitzvah. Seriously, he’s there in the photo album.
Antony Sher’s performance is literally towering at the opening of the play, directed by his husband, RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran. Lear is borne in on a huge platform above the glittering monochrome of his court (designer Niki Turner), wrapped in fur cloaks that make him larger than life, his every pronouncement accompanied by thunderous chords to make of him a primitive demigod. He may look “every inch a king”, as he says ironically later in the strange lucidity of his madness on the cliffs at Dover, but he is equally a very foolish old man, as he also refers to himself later. His rejection of youngest daughter Cordelia (Natalie Simpson, all quiet resolution in white) is especially cruel, arbitrary and yes, senile, simply because of that god-like build up.
Ah, the F word again. No surprises there. But it’s the man who’s the feminist in Samantha Ellis’s fast and funny spin on Hollywood screwball romcoms, billed as “a romantic comedy turned upside down”.
Kate is a journalist who happens to be Jewish. She also happens to have a fatal attraction to bad men, both on the page (Heathcliff) and in the all too solid flesh (her ex is her promiscuous editor). Then there’s Steve, a man who happens to be a feminist. His mum brought him up at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, while Kate’s dad is an Israeli brought up in a refugee camp. She wants to be swept off her feet and into bed. Steve probably wants to sweep the floor for her first. Can they get (and keep) it together despite their prejudices, their predilections and their parents?
Samantha Ellis’s play How to Date a Feminist is currently on at Arcola Theatre. Her heroine is Kate, a journalist who happens to be Jewish. She also happens to have a fatal attraction to bad men. Her hero is Steve, a feminist who happens to be a man. His mum brought him up at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, her dad is an Israeli brought up in a refugee camp. With these characters Ellis explores love in the 21st century.
Samantha talks about her influences, including vintage screwball Hollywood comedies, her own background, growing up in London with Iraqi Jewish parents, and her other plays and books.
Photo by Nick Rutter
How to Date a Feminist runs until Saturday 1 October, 8pm & 3.30pm, £17, £14 concs, at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin St, E8 3DL; 020 7503 1646. www.arcolatheatre.com
On the simplest of sets – designer Sebastian Noel’s cabin trunks piled and rearranged to create levels on the set of the play with which it’s in repertoire – and with the audience focusing intently from either side, three young women and two young men begin The Great Divide. They’re telling the story about a New York garment factory fire in 1911 that took the lives of 146 workers, mainly young women and Jewish refugees from Russia. Such is the power of Alix Sobler’s storytelling and the lyrical intensity of director Rory McGregor’s cast that there is little need for much more.