I have to admit to not being a chess player. It’s a tribute to Richard McElvain, and of course to Stefan Zweig’s original story, that this dramatised account of how a man might survive and even triumph over extreme deprivation thanks to resilience, will power and a chess manual gripped me straightaway. Just after the Anschluss, a Viennese Jewish lawyer imprisoned by the Gestapo is kept in solitary confinement in a tiny cell, save for when he is marched off for repeated intensive interrogation. He manages to steal a book from his tormentors that turns out to be that chess manual. And his salvation.
“Why are you so nasty?” Brenda asks Neil in Philip Roth’s first book, Goodbye, Columbus. Nasty? Neil was tame stuff compared to some of Roth’s later heroes and no one comes nastier than Alex Portnoy. If Goodbye, Columbus launched Roth at the end of the 1950s, it was Portnoy’s Complaint, published ten years later, that made him a household name. It is when he found his voice as a writer: fast, furious, funny and very, very Jewish.
Portnoy was a book of its time, one of the best Jewish American novels of the Sixties. Published at the height of the 1960s, it was about sex, race and letting go. The whole novel is one long monologue by Alex Portnoy, lying on his analyst’s couch, trying to find out where it all went wrong.
**Please note this is an abridged version. Read the full interview in the upcoming July issue of Jewish Renaissance.
Imagine you’re in New York in the 1970s. Jimmy Carter is either in office or about to be, bands like the Bee Gees and Elton John are vying for top spot in the charts, and one very apprehensive groom named Yoel is dreading his impending wedding.
“It’s not necessarily just about the wedding,” clarifies Na’ama Zisser, the composer of this unique Jewish opera, Mamzer Bastard. “Throughout his life Yoel has felt a bit like a misfit, that maybe there’s something wrong with him, but he doesn’t quite know why. I think the wedding is the climax of these emotions – the point where he thinks: ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’”
When the Nazis branded music by Jewish composers and ‘negro music’, the so-called ‘degenerate’ music of the Weimar cabaret, an ‘effigy of wickedness’ – they banned it too. But not before staging a Degenerate Music Exhibition, complete with listening booths to teach the public what to deplore, and people queued round the block for the chance to hear it. Eighty years later you may still have to queue to see this compelling, provocative and wildly colourful cabaret.
Israel is rightly famed for its thriving film industry for directors, actors and other creatives who produce films that provide snapshots of life in Israel. From delicious quirky comedies to tense dramas: they are not afraid to engage with the difficult issues facing the septuagenarian state and its inhabitants.
Every year the Tel Aviv University (TAU) Night at the Movies provides an exciting opportunity for UK audiences to see a handful of short films created by graduates from the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at TAU. And every year they provide new proof that the future of Israel’s film industry is in safe hands.
Celebrated choreographer Hofesh Shechter presents Shechter II, his apprentice company for dancers ages 18-25. Just eight extraordinary young international talents, chosen from over 1,000 who auditioned, prove they are already a force to be reckoned with. Rock gig meets circus in this funny, disturbing, sexy show, tinged with the menace of gothic horror.
Dressed in an intriguing amalgam of costumes (costume supervisor Laura Rushton) suggesting clowns, music hall and Edwardiana, the dancers group and regroup, by turns amorous and supportive and threateningly murderous. Attraction proves fatal as, with dizzying speed, they move from ardent embrace to ruthless assassination. As they execute their deceptively wild and fluid measures, they take turns to execute each other, stabbing and strangling, falling and jerking in repeated death throes, only to rise and start all over again. It’s as if Mr Punch had come to life and inspired a whole troupe of imitators.
In Shirleymander Jessica Martin plays Westminster Council leader Shirley Porter in Gregory Evans’ dark satire charting the events behind the Westminster ‘homes for votes’ scandal of the 1980s. She tells Judi Herman more about the resonance for 2018 of a play staged in a theatre barely five minutes from Grenfell Tower. Martin describes the scandal as “a real-life House of Cards situation” and Porter as “a north London Marie Antoinette”. The Spitting Image star also gives a taste of her Edwina Currie, and we get a peek at some of the exciting graphic novels she writes and illustrates too.
Shirleymander runs Wednesday 23 May – Saturday 16 June. 7.30pm (Mon-Sat), 2.30pm (Thu & Sat only). £25, £15 concs. The Playground Theatre, W10 6RQ. 020 8960 0110. www.theplaygroundtheatre.london
Vasily Grossman’s 855-page account of life across the Soviet Union during World War II has been compared to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Adaptor/director Lev Dodin and his Maly Drama Theatre company from St Petersburg have honed it into three hours of gripping theatre, by turns shocking, moving and funny – sometimes all three simultaneously. They have wisely concentrated on the story of the family of Viktor Shtrum, the Jewish physicist at the heart of Grossman’s novel, while ensuring that other key characters get the stage time they deserve. The predicament of the Jews that underpins the novel is placed firmly centre stage.