From the moment Janet Suzman, as Rose, appeared dressed all in black, sitting on a single white bench on an empty stage, the audience was gripped.
Rose was sitting shiva, and as her story unfolded over the next two hours, recounting her journey from a Ukrainian shtetl through all the vicissitudes of a Jewish 20th Century, she sat shiva repeatedly. Each time – for a parent, a child, a husband, victims of the repeated manifestations of antisemitism – a slender shower of sand descending from a hole in the roof of the stage was the only visual accompaniment to Rose’s narrative.
“There is no more demanding role in the canon than Rose,” declared Richard Beecham, director of the first UK revival of Martin Sherman’s award-winning play, which premiered at the National Theatre in 1999.
This one-actor tour de force about persecution, displacement and survival stars Dame Janet Suzman in what Beecham describes as an “extraordinary role for an older actress” and runs at HOME, Manchester, until Saturday 10 June. “Older chaps get the parts,” he explained when he and Suzman spoke to the press prior to the play’s opening. She agreed that there were too few roles for older actresses and interjected with a wry smile: “I can understand why Glenda Jackson said ‘bugger it – I’ll play King Lear’.”
Writer Samantha Ellis talks to Judi Herman about her new play. The Only Jew in England tells the story of Dom Marco Raphael, the Venetian Rabbi who is said to have been consulted by Henry VIII over his divorce from Anne Boleyn. Ellis’s drama imagines Raphael’s life at court, rubbing shoulders with the greats, along with the king’s musicians, who may also be secret Jews. It’s performed by actors/musicians from E15 Acting School and directed by Matthew Lloyd (of the verbatim drama Listen, We’re Family).
The Only Jew in England runs Thursday 18 – Saturday 20 May. 7.30pm (Thu & Fri only), 2.30pm (Sat only). Donations on the door. Queen’s Theatre, RM11 1QT. 017 0844 3333. www.queens-theatre.co.uk
Playwright Cordelia O’Neill talks to Judi Herman about her powerfully imagined drama, No Place for a Woman, the story of two women caught up in the Holocaust. At concentration camp commandant Fredrick’s orders, Jewish ballerina and internee Isabella is ordered to dance for guests at the party his wife Annie is throwing and their lives become inextricably intertwined.
Click here to read our review of of No Place for a Woman.
No Place for a Woman runs until Saturday 27 May. 7.45pm (Tue-Sat), 3pm (Wed & Sat only). £15, £12 concs. Theatre 503, SW11 3BW. 020 7978 7040. www.theatre503.com
At 3.15 pm on Sunday 30 April a cast of actors, writers and academics amongst others will read from the first page of Primo Levi’s seminal novel If This is a Man. Taking on chunks of the text each to read aloud, they will only stop when they reach the novel’s final page – an estimated six-hour feat. This unique reading is taking place at London’s Southbank Centre to mark 70 years since the publication of Levi’s harrowing account of the year he spent in Auschwitz concentration camp when he was 23 years old.
We spoke to one of the curators of the event, novelist AL Kennedy, about why the book remains so significant today.
Ahead of its run at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate, Daniel Donskoy performed A Song Goes Round the World – his show of European chansons – for the residents of Selig Court. Many of those who live in these independent living apartments on Jewish Care’s Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Campus are survivors of Nazi persecution. Donskoy sings in many languages, including Yiddish, to bring people together in a fractured Europe. Judi Herman was there to meet Donskoy and the residents, to hear their stories – and of course Donskoy’s glorious vocals, accompanied by MD Inga Davis-Rutter on piano.
A Song Goes Round the World runs Tuesday 25 – Sunday 30 April. 7.30pm, 4pm (Sun only). £18, £16 concs. Upstairs at the Gatehouse, N6 4BD. 020 8340 3488. www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com
First it was a play, then a film and now Calendar Girls has been made into a musical – already nominated for several Olivier Awards – with book and lyrics by Tim Firth, who wrote the play and co-wrote the film script (with Juliette Towhidi), and music by Gary Barlow.
The Girls tells the true story of members of a Yorkshire branch of the Women’s Institute who had the idea of posing for a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research, when the husband of one of the girls became ill and died from the disease.
As all the girls of the title are nominated jointly for an Olivier Award, Judi Herman spoke to Debbie Chazen, who has the distinction of being the only Jewish ‘girl’, as well as the only one who appeared in the original stage play.
Photo by Matt Crockett, Dewynters
The Girls runs until Saturday 15 July. 7.30pm (Tue-Sat), 2.30pm (Thu & Sat, plus Tue from 25 Apr). £29.50-£69.50. Phoenix Theatre, WC2H 0JP. 0844 871 7627. www.phoenixtheatrelondon.co.uk
It’s Dora Reisser’s ability to reinvent herself – from child refugee to prima ballerina, actor, screen star and fashion designer – and in such nail-biting circumstances, that makes her memoir, Dora’s Story, so gripping. Judi Herman visited Reisser at her remarkable London home (it used to be a railway station) to hear more of the stories behind her book, which begins with the little-known history of how Bulgaria’s Jews survived the Holocaust; and about her life in the UK and Israel, including an eye-opening account of how she started her Reisser fashion house – just one of the many new stories Reisser has that could fill a sequel.
Dora’s Story by Dora Reisser is out on Troubador. £9.99. www.troubador.co.uk
There was a terrific compilation movie that took the title of much-loved song That’s Entertainment (written by Jewish duo Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz for the MGM film The Band Wagon) to celebrate the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio’s prodigious output; celebrating songs by Jewish composers and lyricists written for films produced by a studio founded and run by the eponymous Jewish entertainment moguls. Producer Katy Lipson proves her love and knowledge of “the magic of the musical” by touring her show The MGM Story this February. So in a way That’s Jewish Entertainment is a given, but there’s still so much to discover and enjoy as four talented performers and a four-strong band give their all to entertaining Yiddish style and tracing the trajectory of Jewish entertainment from shtetl to showbiz.
Following a visit to Auschwitz in 2012, Sira Soetendorp felt a deep need to preserve the memory of all the lost family members. The Dutch artist used carved outlines drawn in oil paint to fashion portraits based on family photographs, which make up her exhibition Vanished Families. Here she discusses the exhibit with JR’s Arts Editor Judi Herman, plus you will hear Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, Sira’s husband and Emeritus Rabbi of the Hague, who is an award-winning human rights advocate.
Vanished Families runs until Monday 27 February at Etz Chayim Gallery, Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue, HA6 3AA. 019 2382 2592. Viewing by appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.npls.org.uk/etzchayim.htm