Author Archives: Judi Herman

Review: Into the Woods ★★★ – Sondheim’s dark meta fairy tale gets a bewitching update

I tried explaining Sondheim’s complex morality fable to my five-year-old granddaughter. “You might find it scary,” I said. “It weaves together the stories of Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk with a new story about a baker and his wife. The pair long for a baby, but after the outcome you expect, some unexpected scary stuff starts to happen.”

“Lots of fairy tales are scary anyway, Nana,” she retorted. She has a point. Sondheim’s unravelling and his moral – “be careful what you wish for” – are a timely warning. Book is by James Lapine and director Tim McArthur gives it a 21st-century reality TV check, a fresh new spin that really works.

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Review: Shirleymander ★★★★ – A fast-moving, forensic comic-strip exposé of a Tory bad girl

Known for her wickedly accurate voicing of Edwina Currie in Spitting Image, Jessica Martin is ideal casting for another prominent Jewish Tory gal: Shirley Porter. This larger-than-life anti-heroine was leader of Westminster Council from 1983 to 1991. Martin’s Porter is vociferous, loud and colourful (literally, in a series of 80s power outfits that the Dallas and Dynasty cast would have killed for), revelling in walking all over her subordinates and unafraid to show her contempt for the disadvantaged of Westminster.

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Review: The Chess Player ★★★★ – A masterly staging of a gripping war game

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.

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Review: Effigies of Wickedness ★★★★ – A riot of colour, challenging ideas and songs with bite that the Nazis tried to ban

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.

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Get a look at the four student films set to be showcased at the 11th TAU Night at the Movies

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.

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Review: SHOW ★★★★ – Hofesh Shechter’s apprentice company dances up a whirlwind of comedy and menace

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.

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Review: Life and Fate ★★★★★ – Love’s victory over totalitarianism is a total theatre triumph

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.

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Review: The Shakespeare Flickbook – A visually intriguing gift from the late graphic designer Abram Games for the bard’s 454th birthday

© Philip Sayer

In 1975 Abram Games, one of Britain’s greatest graphic designers, was commissioned to make a Centenary Appeal poster for the Royal Shakespeare Company. His brilliant solution was to become known beyond the British Isles: the face of Shakespeare built up from the titles of all the plays as they appear in the First Folio.

The poster has been seen all over the world, but Abram Games intended much more. After his death, his daughter Naomi discovered a mock-up he had made of a flickbook. As the reader flicked the pages, Games planned to make Shakespeare’s face gradually appear.

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Review: Secret Life of Humans ★★★★ – A beautifully-realised theatrical account of human endeavour

Before Homo sapiens there was Neanderthal man. And before Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Attenborough, there was Dr Jacob Bronowski. A Polish Jewish refugee, Bronowski became one of the first intellectuals to achieve TV stardom with his series The Ascent of Man. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which playwright David Byrne cites as one of his biggest inspirations, Yuval Harari argues that sapiens wiped out other human cousins. Of course, Byrne isn’t arguing that television pundits are lethally competitive (though that might make a compelling reality show), but with the company, and co-director Kate Stanley, he has devised a provocative and engaging evening that fleshes out scientific theory onstage by interlocking Dr Bronowski’s story with the meta-story of sapiens – and the story of a one-night stand. Thus, one of Harari’s other central theories, his perspective on relative time – that sapiens’ time has been short compared to life on earth and is not limitless – is demonstrated in just 90 minutes.

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Review: Used to Be Blonde ★★★★ – Tomorrow’s dance stars shine in Sharon Eyal’s thrilling vision

To watch 41 very young – and very talented – dancers executing Sharon Eyal’s exacting and precise choreography is to share a life-affirming and exhilarating experience with the rest of the audience and the young company themselves. The Israeli choreographer and Guest Artistic Director at Sadler’s Wells has created a dazzling work for, and with, members of the National Youth Dance Company. They move so seamlessly together that they seem like one coiling, shimmering organism, clad in tight, shiny black bodysuits and boots (the costumes are Eyal’s concept too), their hands and faces caught in the chiaroscuro of Alon Cohen’s stunning lighting. All this is driven by the insistent techno track created by Eyal’s long-time collaborator and pioneer of Israel’s techno scene, Ori Lichtik.

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