Five years after Sheldon Harnick and the late Jerry Bock struck gold with Fiddler on the Roof, they turned to Mayer Rothschild. Specifically the story of how he and his five sons transmuted the poverty of the ghetto into a golden future. The streamlined version of that show, premiered off-Broadway in 2015, arrives in London with American leads Robert Cuccioli and Glory Crampton as paterfamilias Mayer Rothschild and his wife and helpmeet Gutele, respectively, plus original director Jeffrey B Moss.
Is it an accolade if your name becomes an adjective to describe your work as playwright? Brechtian is (perhaps lazy) shorthand for alienation and Pinteresque for menacing. Unsettling menace may permeate the sea air in the unnamed resort where Meg runs a shabby boarding house and husband Petey is a deckchair attendant, but Harold Pinter brings rather more to this party. He is laugh-out-loud funny for a start. His ear for the vagaries of daily conversation, the transactions and the power play, is acute; the heightened rhythms and repeats of his characters’ exchanges and what they reveal of their hopes, fears and relationships – and the pauses (carefully written into the script) – are entirely his own.
“Tears are the juice of our souls”, declares Blueberry the Clown, demonstrating how squeezing a blueberry produces a tear-like drop. He’s born Isaac Solomon Loew, son of a proud, observant Prussian-Jewish immigrant to America’s Deep South. His mother tells him that in Hebrew his name means ‘he who laughs’. It seems it’s this nominative determinism that begins his journey towards becoming a whiteface Pierrot, first in the circus then in vaudeville on Broadway. It’s 1932 and the Depression is kicking in when he meets us, his audience, in his dressing room, after what he confides will be his last ever show. Perhaps Blueberry himself has taken one too many kicks, for you sense the tension behind his rueful smile early on. Still, things are upbeat as he starts to share his life story – and his basket of blueberries – with his public.
East first shocked and delighted audiences in 1975 and in Jessica Lazar’s production for Atticist Theatre it has lost none of its power. Her five actors relish Berkoff’s marriage of precisely choreographed physical theatre and heightened language to make it their own. He folds witty takes on Shakespeare – “he doth bestride Commercial Road like a Colossus” – into heroically scurrilous prose and verse, using Cockney rhyming slang and evoking place names and bus routes to conjure the East End of his youth. It’s a bleak and dangerous manor of dashed hopes, hard graft, violent machismo, sexism and sexual rivalry. Yet it’s a paean to generations who lived there and live there still, fascists and Jews, immigrants and those who resent them.
Going to Limmud Festival is always a source of wonderment: 2,500 delegates of all ages – from under one year old to over 90 – met at Pendigo Lake in Birmingham for the third year. Hundreds of sessions were given by an international cast of presenters, covering all aspects of Jewishness, from torah texts to issues of being Jewish in the fluid world we now inhabit. There were lots of opportunities to join in, whether in Mizrachi dancing or – new to this year – peopling the everyday story of country folk that is The Archers with Jewish characters. There was a great deal of fun with Eddie Grundy!