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.
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.
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.
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.
“All gone to look for America” sang Simon and Garfunkel in 1968. In 1974 oral historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel found America by conducting a series of free-form interviews with so-called ‘ordinary’ people – from labourers to teachers – about their working lives. Uninterrupted by their interviewer, they spoke freely about the meaning they found in their work – and its part in the meaning of their lives. The resulting book is a bestseller still.
Kenny Wax is an eclectic producer, responsible for the spectacular award-winning Top Hat, Hollywood musical turned West End show; enchanting children’s shows, including Olivier- nominated Room on the Broom; and now Fellini’s 1954 film La Strada. All are musical adaptations, reimagined with originality and sensitivity, each by the right team for the job.
The real-life drama of Jersey Boys – the legendary hit from this terrific all-Jewish creative team – is a world away from this deliciously knowing crowd pleaser. Think a cross between the high-school teenage angst of Grease and the outrageous camp of cult smash hit The Rocky Horror Show. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice go back to Charles Addams’ much-loved cartoon strip for their characters, rather than previous live incarnations, the TV series and the film. Andrew Lippa’s well-placed musical numbers are a vital part of the show’s weird and wonderful atmosphere, his richly varied music and witty lyrics working nimbly to reveal the kooky characters and move the plot along.
Ah, Jewish guilt! It propels so many of us. Like our childhoods, it’s a rich seam to mine and Tony Kushner draws on both to fashion this magnificent musical evocation of a time of social change in America he observed first-hand as a small boy. He gives us the microcosm: how change, against the backdrop of Kennedy’s assassination and the civil rights movement, affects a Jewish family in the Deep South.
Extraordinary stories continue to come out of the Holocaust. And writers continue to explore how human nature is pushed to its limits through the extraordinary circumstances of the Shoah.
Writer Cordelia O’Neill sets her play in 1945. Her protagonists, Jew and Nazi, appear to the audience as interviewees of the Allied forces. Isabella is a Jewish ballerina, interned in a concentration camp; like the well-documented real-life examples where musicians were corralled into playing for camp officials, she is ordered to dance at a party thrown by Annie, wife of the camp commandant, Fredrick. Their lives become not only intertwined, but actually interchanged (almost like Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, in which the future Edward VI, Henry VIII’s little son, swaps lives with a street urchin), so that they actually change places, as Annie sees Fredrick attracted to Isabella, who begins to see Fredrick – himself disillusioned with the war – as a man she could love.
The horrors of the mass killing of disabled children perpetrated by the Nazis are less well-known than the Holocaust, though they were arguably a rehearsal for the final solution. All Our Children, a moving drama from director turned writer Stephen Unwin, tells their story by focusing on one so-called clinic and the awakening conscience of Victor, the ageing doctor who runs it. Unwin dedicates his drama to his son Joey, who has profound learning difficulties, so this first play from the acclaimed theatre director is an intensely personal story.