As Opera North revives its acclaimed 2015 production of Kiss Me Kate, the supremely witty reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew by Cole Porter and Bella and Sam Spewack, Judi Herman speaks to the show’s orchestrator and original musical director David Charles Abell. They discuss the Spewacks, the brilliant Jewish husband and wife team, revealing the role the Spewacks played in getting Cole Porter onboard to write the musical that revived his career, one of his best and most popular works.
Photo by Guy Farrow
Kiss Me Kate runs Saturday 23 – Saturday 30 June. 7.30pm (Mon- Sat) 2.30pm (Thu & Sat only). £10-£105. London Coliseum, WC2N 4ES. 020 7845 9300. www.operanorth.co.uk
The show then tours to Scotland Wednesday 4 – Saturday 7 July. 7.15pm, 2.15pm (Sat only). £15.50-£49.50. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, EH8 9FT. 013 1529 6000. www.operanorth.co.uk
In two scenes of Finishing the Picture recorded exclusively for JR OutLoud, we meet the outrageous husband and wife acting coaches, based on Lee and Paula Strasberg. In the first extract coach Flora, played by Nicky Goldie, is complaining to producer Phillip, played by Oliver Le Sueur, about ‘horrific’ working conditions and disrespect. Later you’ll hear Tony Wredden as Jerome, Paula’s pretentious husband. The action takes place on a movie set and director Phil Willmott reveals just how personal Arthur Miller gets in this autobiographical play inspired by the filming of The Misfits, Marilyn Monroe’s last movie, for which he wrote the screenplay; and just how resonant the vulnerable star’s treatment is today and for the ‘Me Too’ movement.
Finishing the Picture runs Tuesday 12 June – Saturday 7 July. 7.30pm (Tue-Sat), 3pm (Sat & Sun only). £18-£20, £16-£18 concs. Finborough Theatre, SW10 9ED. 01223 357 851. www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk
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.
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.
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.
© Mariana Kazarnovsky
**Please note this is an abridged version. Read the full interview in the upcoming July issue of Jewish Renaissance.
Imagine you’re in New York in the 1970s. Jimmy Carter is either in office or about to be, bands like the Bee Gees and Elton John are vying for top spot in the charts, and one very apprehensive groom named Yoel is dreading his impending wedding.
“It’s not necessarily just about the wedding,” clarifies Na’ama Zisser, the composer of this unique Jewish opera, Mamzer Bastard. “Throughout his life Yoel has felt a bit like a misfit, that maybe there’s something wrong with him, but he doesn’t quite know why. I think the wedding is the climax of these emotions – the point where he thinks: ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’”
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.
In Shirleymander Jessica Martin plays Westminster Council leader Shirley Porter in Gregory Evans’ dark satire charting the events behind the Westminster ‘homes for votes’ scandal of the 1980s. She tells Judi Herman more about the resonance for 2018 of a play staged in a theatre barely five minutes from Grenfell Tower. Martin describes the scandal as “a real-life House of Cards situation” and Porter as “a north London Marie Antoinette”. The Spitting Image star also gives a taste of her Edwina Currie, and we get a peek at some of the exciting graphic novels she writes and illustrates too.
Shirleymander runs Wednesday 23 May – Saturday 16 June. 7.30pm (Mon-Sat), 2.30pm (Thu & Sat only). £25, £15 concs. The Playground Theatre, W10 6RQ. 020 8960 0110. www.theplaygroundtheatre.london
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.
As Tik-sho-ret Theatre Company prepare to bring their haunting production of Israeli playwright Yonatan Calderon’s Under the Skin to Brighton, Judi Herman speaks to the company’s artistic director Ariella Eshed. Discover the few known facts about concentration camp guard Annelise Kohlmann as the story of a love affair between her and a young female prisoner unfolds, before revealing the aftermath in 1991 Tel Aviv under threat during the Gulf War. Read about the show in more detail in our review of Under the Skin.
Photo by Lidia Crisafulli
Under the Skin runs Wednesday 16 & Thursday 17 May in Sussex as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. 7pm. £10, £8.50 concs. The Warren: Theatre Box, Brighton, BN1 4GU. www.brightonfringe.org