Author Archives: Judi Herman

Review: The Toxic Avenger the Musical ★★★★ – This grungy green giant is on message loud and clear

Producer Katy Lipson (Aria Entertainment) has a sure eye – and ear – for a hit musical. Between a summer of new musical theatre at The Other Palace, including Some Lovers, Burt Bacharach’s first for years, and the imminent autumn transfer of a sell-out immersive version of tribal rock musical Hair arriving at London’s Vaults from Manchester’s Hope Mills Theatre, comes this West End transfer of a musical that had a hugely successful first outing at Southwark Playhouse.

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Review: Oslo ★★★★ – Travelling hopefully towards Middle East peace proves an exhilarating journey

You almost certainly know the venture ends in failure and tragedy but what a gloriously exhilarating and entertaining evening JT Rogers makes of the journey. It’s 1991 and the US-sponsored Middle East Peace Conference is going nowhere, with the excluded PLO still ensconced in Tunis. Norwegian power couple Mona Juul, a diplomat posted to Cairo, and Terje Rod-Larsen, her foundation-running sociologist husband, get a chance to see first hand the conflict in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank.

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Review: Grand Finale ★★★★★ – Apocalyptic vision in Shechter’s triumphant total dance theatre

If that title sounds ominous, Shechter told me in interview: “I wanted to capture a sense of our time…that out-of-control feeling that things are coming to an end. And how can this have a happy ending?” * Plus, in a programme note on what he does – or does not – expect of his audience: “It’s about what is happening to them in their head, how they feel, [not about getting] it right in some way.”

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Review: Follies ★★★★★ – Fabulous production proves this Sondheim/Goldman musical is no folly

Welcome to Weismann’s Follies. Dmitri Weismann himself presides and the old gang of gorgeous gals are back for one last reunion in the theatre where they showed a leg and sang their hearts out between the wars, before it’s pulled down. It’s time to reminisce (cue for a song-list of glorious pastiches) and take stock of the ravages of the years – physical and emotional. So it’s equally the cue for a range of mould-breaking Sondheim numbers that excavate the regrets and neuroses eating away at the two couples centre-stage, former showgirls Sally and Phyllis and the stage-door johnnies, Buddy and Benjamin, whom they married. The genius of Sondheim and book-writer James Goldman is to intertwine and meld these two strands, building to a climax of ‘follies’ point numbers which become the expression of all that angst and heartache, one for each of the four, surprising, distinctive, appropriate and devastatingly revealing. The haunting of all the returnees by their younger selves, the girls in their gorgeous costumes and their stage door johnnies, acting out the past and observing their future, is another stroke of genius, another layer to this rich, complex show.

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Review: The Knowledge ★★★★ – A funny heart-warming ride through pre-Uber London

Chief examiner Mr Burgess, played with thrilling comic cruelty by Steven Pacey, sets his latest cohort of four would-be London Taxi drivers the task of committing to memory all 320 routes, 15,842 streets and all places of interest on the way within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. “No taxi driver in no other city in no other country in the world has to know a fraction of what you have to know. And not many brain surgeons neither.” The late Jack Rosenthal’s 1979 play for TV exploring the impact of this almost impossible challenge (70% drop-out rate then and some 25,000 streets now) is adapted for the stage by Simon Block and directed with comic verve by Rosenthal’s wife for 30 years Maureen Lipman, who appeared in the TV drama.

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Review: The Simon & Garfunkel Story ★★★★ – Unforgettable songs with the power to move get a powerful live performance

“Time it was, oh what a time it was” – as the lights went down, the poignant notes of what is for me one of Simon and Garfunkel’s most persistent earworms played in my head – and then echoed on stage to open a show that reminded me just how many earworms the pair gifted us.

Sam O’Hanlon and Charles Blyth work subtly together and with their stonking backing band to conjure the sound and look of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel without slavishly aiming to be look- and sound-alikes. Their role as narrators is important too, for this is billed as the folk duo’s story. We learn how these two Jewish boys met at their Queens, NY, elementary school, appearing together in the school production of Alice in Wonderland – Paul as the White Rabbit and Art the Cheshire Cat. The animal theme continued as they made their musical debut as Tom and Jerry, before using their own rather more memorable surnames.

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JR reviews two ★★★★ picks from Edinburgh’s International Shalom Festival: rap opera The City and documentary Disturbing the Peace

The City ★★★★ – Israel’s Incubator Theatre makes its Edinburgh debut at Shalom – just three years after protests prevented it from being part of the Festival Fringe

One highlight of the International Shalom Festival is the return to Edinburgh of Jerusalem’s Incubator Theatre with their hip-hop opera The City, a clever homage to all those private dicks who walk the mean streets of the city trying to solve crime. The City is entirely written in rhyme, combining rap, hip-hop and spoken word to tell a tale of vanity, lust and murder. This is the company targeted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators in 2014, which meant they were unable to perform at the Fringe. So it’s all the more exciting and gratifying that they are at last making their proper Edinburgh debut. When JR’s Arts Editor Judi Herman saw The City at JW3, London, where it played three sold-out performances in the aftermath of the Edinburgh protests, she was inspired to write the following four-star review in rhyme.

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Review: Fiddler on the Roof ★★★★ – Raising the roof at Chichester Festival Theatre

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.

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Review: The Mentor ★★★ – Daniel Kehlmann’s waspish wit makes intellectual sparks fly

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.

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Review: Charlotte – A Tri-Coloured Play with Music ★★★★ – Charlotte Salomon’s autobiographical work explodes onto the stage in glorious tri-colour

Charlotte Salomon produced an extraordinary series of autobiographical gouaches with texts. She overlaid them on transparent paper or wrote straight onto her paintings to provide dialogue, comments and even suggestions of musical accompaniments. Salomon provides a unique account of Jewish family life in Germany, and later France, spanning the troubled years from before World War I until the height of World War II, when she created work in the South of France, before her deportation to Auschwitz in 1943, aged just 26.

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