Category Archives: Theatre

A Dark Night in Dalston *** a night of discovery @ParkTheatre that will keep you guessing

Some years back, I interviewed for radio Rabbi Jonathan Black, making a cameo appearance in East Enders conducting a Jewish wedding. Not a viewer, I duly researched by watching an omnibus edition and learned how you ‘gotta talk’! (Non-Orthodox) Jewish playwright Stewart Permutt, did his research by consulting a Charedi friend. So there’s a real authenticity about his protagonist Gideon – what brands of bread and crisps he can eat (Kingsmill and Walkers) and what he cannot drink from (glass).

Permutt has form writing strong female characters, often for well-known TV stars – Lesley Joseph, Celia Imrie and the much-missed Miriam Karlin.

His latest play was specially commissioned by Eastenders and Coronation Street star, Michelle Collins, who was actually born in Hackney. Collin’s maternal grandfather was a Belgian Jew who moved to Wales to escape the Holocaust. Having played the confused mother Evelyn in Diane Samuels’ Kindertransport, Collins searched for another dramatic stage role. So she proactively commissioned a play with a juicy part for herself.

The resulting two-hander is a present-day drama set in the East End flat of Collins’ character Gina, a feisty, friendly ex-nurse living on a Dalston council estate, whose days are filled caring for her partner, bed-bound after a stroke. When young Orthodox Jew Gideon (Joe Coen), is beaten up one Friday night on her doorstep, Gina takes him in. But Shabbat has begun and this strictly observant Jew can’t travel home to Stanmore, so he is forced to spend the night with her, a night during which they find themselves drawn to each other as regrets about their lives emerge.



Tim Stark directs this dark comedy exploring the “madness of the human condition”, as he says, with a sensitive ear for the dialogue so that the evolving emotional conflict is genuinely involving. Simon Shaw’s set beautifully evokes (now ex) Council flats, with their signature external landings. However, it’s a challenge to sustain dramatic tension over a scenario that doesn’t evolve sufficiently during its playing time, so it might benefit from losing a few of its 105 minutes.

Collins and Coen admirably inhabit their characters despite gaps in their development over the drama’s duration. Collins convincingly captures the conflicted Gina, and her small-screen acting is well suited to the intimate Park90 space. Joe Coen, fresh from The Mighty Walzer and Bad Jews, invests Gideon with that curious mix of self-righteousness and self-knowing often seen in the ultra-orthodox of whatever religion. Their final scenes together are touching, bringing out the common bonds shared by the characters and the chemistry between the actors.

A Dark Night in Dalston is a good night out, given enough good will and patience to discover Gina and Gideon’s deep-seated needs and hopes.

by Judi Herman

Photos by Helen Murray

to 1 April: 7.45pm (Mon-Sat), 3.15pm (Thu & Sat only). £18, £16.50 concs.

Park Theatre, N4 3JP. 020 7870 6876.www.parktheatre.co.uk

 

JR OutLoud: Debbie Chazen, the only Jewish Calendar Girl, talks about her new musical The Girls


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

Click here to listen to more interviews on JR OutLoud.

Review: The Wild Party ★★★★ – Loud, lively and lovely, The Wild Party lives up to its name

What better way to open The Other Palace (formerly St James Theatre) than with a wild party? Michael John LaChiusa’s musical takes on Joseph Moncure March’s 1920s poem and paints an unglamorous picture of the dissolute decade with a cast of unsympathetic and pitiless characters. Guys and Dolls it ain’t!

Continue reading

Review: That’s Jewish Entertainment ★★★ – Much to discover and enjoy in a canter from cantor to cabaret

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.

Continue reading

Review: Death Takes a Holiday ★★★ – Magic realism in 1920s Italy makes for a haunting musical

Lush romantic stories are bread and butter to composer/lyricist Maury Yeston, and he writes scores to match. His elegiac music conjures time and place and whether the place is the doomed Titanic ocean liner or Grand Hotel Berlin 1928, the first half of the 20th century seems to be his preferred time.

Continue reading

Review: Promises, Promises ★★★ – The swinging 60s live up to their name in a musical with pedigree  

With its stellar writing team – music and lyrics Burt Bacharach and Hal David, book Neil Simon (based on Billy Wilder’s screenplay for hit comedy The Apartment) – this musical set in early 60s New York is as lovable and eager to be loved as any pedigree pup. It boasts a hero of self-deprecating charm in Chuck Baxter, insurance company junior and wannabe executive dining room key holder. Happily for Chuck, he already holds the keys to a Manhattan studio apartment, discreet walking distance from the office. Jaded middle-aged senior executives aspire to these keys to happiness in their turn for the odd hour’s dalliance with their very personal assistants before they go home to their wives. Chuck seems to hold the keys to his own advancement – the promises are the promotion his superiors offer in return.

Continue reading

Review: Veteran’s Day ★★★★ – Donald Freed’s 1987 cautionary tale is timely and provocative in the month of Trump’s inauguration

The theatre is a storage room in an LA veterans administration hospital. The date is 11 November 1989 – Remembrance Day. Three veterans of three different conflicts, emblematic of a 20th-century world torn apart by war, represent the soldiers scarred by their experiences in the theatre of war. Sporting poppies, they prepare in this makeshift waiting room to be decorated for valour. Private Leslie R Holloway, who saw service (and unnamed horrors) during World War I, is slumped in a wheelchair when Sergeant John MacCormick Butts breezes into the room in his brash suit. His voice is even louder as he whiles away the time by cheerily proving that his prowess at the piano is equal to his prowess in World War II, accompanying himself reprising rousing ditties from different conflicts, from Keep the Home Fires Burning to Over Here. His best endeavours are not enough to rouse Holloway, however, so it’s a relief when the immaculate, dapper figure of Colonel Walter Kercelik marches smartly into the room, so highly decorated during the Viet Nam War that he’s appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.

What follows is an unravelling that is as unpredictable as it is terrifying, until it becomes apparent what deep psychological traumas all three men have endured. The sort of damage evident in Holloway’s slouched form is disguised by Butts, with his over-cheerful bonhomie, and Kercelik with his extraordinary outward self-control, encyclopaedic retention of facts and glowing efficiency.

Continue reading

JR OutLoud: Charles Dorfman talks about acting in hit comedy Luv – seasonal fun to light up winter

When Harry is talked down from throwing himself off a Bridge by old school friend Milt, who luckily happens to be passing, his life takes a different direction as he finds love in this 1963 comedy from Murray Schisgal. He’s the prominent New York Jewish writer responsible for Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman’s cross-dressing film comedy hit. Here Charles Dorfman talks to Judi Herman about finding LUV and playing Harry; his co-stars Nick Barber and Elsie Bennett; his collaboration with director Gary Condes; and Dorfman’s Buckland Theatre Company, resident company at Park Theatre’s studio space, Park 90.

LUV runs until Saturday 7 January. 7.45pm (Tue-Sat), 7pm (13 Dec only), 3.15pm (Thu & Sat). £14.50-£18. Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, N4 3JP. 020 7870 6876. www.parktheatre.co.uk

Read our review of LUV

Review: The Red Shoes ★★★★★ – Bourne’s transcendent storytelling ravishes the senses

theatre-the-red-shoes-ashley-shaw-victoria-page-and-sam-archer-boris-lermontov-photo-by-johan-persson

To Powell and Pressburger go the plaudits for moulding Hans Andersen’s fairy tale with its hard magic into an allegory of art versus life. To Bernard Herrman the plaudits for writing film music that brilliantly conjures mood and emotion, atmosphere and character. And to Matthew Bourne with his creative team, led by designer Lez Brotherston and composer/orchestrator Terry Davies and with his close-knit family of dancers, goes the glory for taking all this magic and distilling it into two hours of transcendent storytelling that ravishes the senses.

Continue reading

Review: Luv ★★★★ – Lots to love in this surreal 60s love-in

theatre_luv_nick-barber-milt-harry-charles-dorfman-in-buckland-theatre-companys-luv-at-park-theatre-credit-the-other-richard

Reviving Murray Schisgal’s 1964 show, unashamedly a mix of absurdist humour and traditional Broadway comedy, is a gamble, especially given our current perspectives on matters of love, sex and the human condition. In lesser hands the gamble might not have paid off, but director Gary Condes has a fine understanding of the material and nudges his cast to find just that right blend between reality and cartoon that made the play a hit over 50 years ago.

Continue reading