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.
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’.
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.
The theatre is a storage room in an LA veterans administration hospital. The date is 11 November 1989 – Remembrance Day. Three veterans of three different conflicts, emblematic of a 20th-century world torn apart by war, represent the soldiers scarred by their experiences in the theatre of war. Sporting poppies, they prepare in this makeshift waiting room to be decorated for valour. Private Leslie R Holloway, who saw service (and unnamed horrors) during World War I, is slumped in a wheelchair when Sergeant John MacCormick Butts breezes into the room in his brash suit. His voice is even louder as he whiles away the time by cheerily proving that his prowess at the piano is equal to his prowess in World War II, accompanying himself reprising rousing ditties from different conflicts, from Keep the Home Fires Burning to Over Here. His best endeavours are not enough to rouse Holloway, however, so it’s a relief when the immaculate, dapper figure of Colonel Walter Kercelik marches smartly into the room, so highly decorated during the Viet Nam War that he’s appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.
What follows is an unravelling that is as unpredictable as it is terrifying, until it becomes apparent what deep psychological traumas all three men have endured. The sort of damage evident in Holloway’s slouched form is disguised by Butts, with his over-cheerful bonhomie, and Kercelik with his extraordinary outward self-control, encyclopaedic retention of facts and glowing efficiency.
Janet Haig is one of the ceramicists whose pieces (pictured above), as well as a film showing how she works, are featured in Shaping Ceramics at the Jewish Museum London. The exhibition explores the work of pioneering ceramicists, tracing their influence on subsequent generations of ceramic artists whose Jewish heritage has shaped their work. Polish-born artist Haig joins JR’s arts editor Judi Herman here for a very personal tour of the exhibition, discussing the experiences that have moulded her work: from the hardships of the war years in a Siberian prison camp with her mother, to her formative childhood in Australia (where she studied painting) after they discovered that their closest family had perished in the Holocaust, to her arrival in the UK in 1962 and work teaching in a boys’ school.
Haig reveals that her first inspiration might go back as far as those harsh days in Siberia: “My mother was able to take one object with her [to Siberia] and she suddenly saw this little pot (I still have it in my possession), which she grabbed hold of because, as I was a baby, she thought it would be useful to warm things up. It’s enamel, blue on the outside, white on the inside and maybe that has had some kind of inspiration on my pots.”
Shaping Ceramics: From Lucie Rie to Edmund de Waal runs until Sunday 26 February, at Jewish Museum, NW1 7NB. 020 7284 7384. www.jewishmuseum.org.uk
Watch ceramic artist Janet Haig demonstrate the ancient pottery-making technique of hand building on Monday 23 January, 11.30am-12.30pm, £7.50, £6.50 concs, at Jewish Museum, NW1 7NB. 020 7284 7384. www.jewishmuseum.org.uk