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
I am grateful to my Bubbe, who arrived in London from the Pale of Settlement in 1890, cradling the first of her 10 children, my beloved grandma. And equally to the paternal grandfather I sadly never met, who made his painful way to Britain from Bobruisk, Belarus, despite his gammy leg. Thanks to them my family thrived here rather than perishing in a pit in the Holocaust. But did they leave voluntarily, or were they pushed out like the Jews of Anatevka?
Daniel Evans’ beautifully thought-through production made me ponder this question more than any previous incarnation of this much-loved musical, based on Shalom Aleichem’s equally-loved tales. Gloriously funny though it may be when appropriate, it provokes thought as well as sentimental tears, starting with the eloquent opening, which actually has these Jews arriving to set up home in Anatevka from wherever else they have fled or been ejected.
Hundreds thronged to Manchester’s Jewish Museum on Sunday 2 July for the first Jewish Arts Festival For All (JAFFA). Jews of all ages were joined by those of other faiths for a fun-filled day of food, music, art and entertainment.
The Lord Mayor of Manchester – who spent almost two hours at the festival with his wife – chose as his theme for a year that has seen the city’s emergence from the horrendous terrorist attack, “to promote community cohesion and mutual respect amongst and between the city’s diverse communities and individuals” and t was certainly in evidence on Sunday.
Narcissism is trending, so Germany’s wunderkind Daniel Kehlmann (bigger there than JK Rowling) is in tune with the Zeitgeist in this tale of an ageing literary lion seeing off the threat of a cub writer by rubbishing the work he’s supposed to be nurturing. Literary legend Benjamin Rubin (F Murray Abraham) still dines out on the hit play he wrote in his youth – a lucrative meal ticket as he’s mentoring budding playwright Martin Wegner for just one week under a prize scheme that earns both writers €10,000.
There’s no denying the elegance of Kehlmann’s set up. First dibs goes to Rubin, who gets to establish his character with insecurities about being a one-hit wonder – his querulous nature flagged up by a list of demands, including his Scotch of choice. It’s enough to try the patience of ineffectual arts administrator Erwin Rudiceck, presiding uneasily over this battle of egos. The names suggest the European location of Kehlmann’s play (Rudiceck is Czech, Wegner German, Rubin alone could be a Jew from either side of the Atlantic), though Polly Sullivan’s lush villa setting (it’s Rudiceck’s incidentally), with its wonderfully pretentious chairs that ape huge sculptured hands, sits as well in New England as, say, in the old country of Mittel Europa. Aspiring artist Rudiceck is looking for approval for his own artistic oeuvre, monochrome mood pictures handily displayed on his phone.
Hodl is the second daughter of Tevye, the poor dairyman whose family are at the heart of one of the world’s favourite musicals. She falls in love with Perchik, a student and revolutionary, and follows him into exile in Siberia.
“When I got the phone call that I’d been offered [the part], I burst into tears,” says Kingston. Listen as she tells Judi Herman why, and much more about her research for the part, including reading Shalom Aleichem’s original stories on which the musical is based. The actor also discusses her Jewish upbringing; how she and fellow Jewish cast member Tracy-Ann Oberman (who plays Tevye’s wife, Golde) share insights with the rest of the cast; and the joy of rehearsals with Iranian-born actor and comic Omid Djalili in the role of Tevye.
Fiddler on the Roof runs Monday 10 July – Saturday 2 September. 7.30pm, 2.30pm (various Wed, Thu & Sat: phone to confirm). From £10. Chichester Festival Theatre, PO19 6AP. 012 4378 1312. www.cft.org.uk
Click here to read our review of Fiddler on the Roof.