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.
Hundreds thronged to Manchester’s Jewish Museum on Sunday 2 July for the first Jewish Arts Festival For All (JAFFA). Jews of all ages were joined by those of other faiths for a fun-filled day of food, music, art and entertainment.
The Lord Mayor of Manchester – who spent almost two hours at the festival with his wife – chose as his theme for a year that has seen the city’s emergence from the horrendous terrorist attack, “to promote community cohesion and mutual respect amongst and between the city’s diverse communities and individuals” and t was certainly in evidence on Sunday.
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.
Hodl is the second daughter of Tevye, the poor dairyman whose family are at the heart of one of the world’s favourite musicals. She falls in love with Perchik, a student and revolutionary, and follows him into exile in Siberia.
“When I got the phone call that I’d been offered [the part], I burst into tears,” says Kingston. Listen as she tells Judi Herman why, and much more about her research for the part, including reading Shalom Aleichem’s original stories on which the musical is based. The actor also discusses her Jewish upbringing; how she and fellow Jewish cast member Tracy-Ann Oberman (who plays Tevye’s wife, Golde) share insights with the rest of the cast; and the joy of rehearsals with Iranian-born actor and comic Omid Djalili in the role of Tevye.
Fiddler on the Roof runs Monday 10 July – Saturday 2 September. 7.30pm, 2.30pm (various Wed, Thu & Sat: phone to confirm). From £10. Chichester Festival Theatre, PO19 6AP. 012 4378 1312. www.cft.org.uk
Click here to read our review of Fiddler on the Roof.
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.
From the moment Janet Suzman, as Rose, appeared dressed all in black, sitting on a single white bench on an empty stage, the audience was gripped.
Rose was sitting shiva, and as her story unfolded over the next two hours, recounting her journey from a Ukrainian shtetl through all the vicissitudes of a Jewish 20th Century, she sat shiva repeatedly. Each time – for a parent, a child, a husband, victims of the repeated manifestations of antisemitism – a slender shower of sand descending from a hole in the roof of the stage was the only visual accompaniment to Rose’s narrative.
“There is no more demanding role in the canon than Rose,” declared Richard Beecham, director of the first UK revival of Martin Sherman’s award-winning play, which premiered at the National Theatre in 1999.
This one-actor tour de force about persecution, displacement and survival stars Dame Janet Suzman in what Beecham describes as an “extraordinary role for an older actress” and runs at HOME, Manchester, until Saturday 10 June. “Older chaps get the parts,” he explained when he and Suzman spoke to the press prior to the play’s opening. She agreed that there were too few roles for older actresses and interjected with a wry smile: “I can understand why Glenda Jackson said ‘bugger it – I’ll play King Lear’.”
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.