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.
Lionel Bart’s glorious musical is an extraordinary mixture of the dark and the life-enhancing. It’s as if he’s channelling Dickens in his words and music to retell the genuinely thrilling and affecting story of the young orphan’s adventures in the cruel world of 19th-century London.
See it as you’ve probably never seen it before, in an intimate space that brings you right into the workhouse and Fagin’s den, here wonderfully suggested by a veritable ceiling of handkerchiefs. Bart of course rises magnificently to the challenge of creating the character of Fagin, the “kind old gentleman” so intent on of giving street urchins a useful trade. And the Watermill’s Cameron Blakely magnificently rises to the challenge of both following in the tradition begun by the late, great Ron Moody and making Fagin his own. It’s fascinating to notice though, that in his (worryingly sympathetic) “Reviewing the Situation”, he does not use the Jewish “questioning” fall for the line, “So at my time of life I should start turning over new leaves?” I’m guessing it might be because he thinks that was Moody’s way with the line and he should not copy it, rather than a question built in by Bart. But go see for yourself – if you can beg, borrow or pick a pocket for a ticket!
By Judi Herman
To read more about this glorious production, its multi-talented cast and the joy of joining in with “Oom Pah Pah” see Judi Herman’s full review at Whatsonstage.com.
Oliver! runs until Saturday 19 September. 7.30pm & 2.30pm. £17.50-£30. The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, RG20 8AE; 016 354 6044. www.watermill.org.uk
In the mid 1940’s Miller was captivated by the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn that contained so many docks and landing piers. He was fascinated by the close community of longshoremen (dockers) and their precarious life of casual day hire, unsafe working practices and exploitation by corrupt Union officials in thrall to the Mafia. Intrigued by the death of Pete Panto, a longshoreman who vanished after confronting Union corruption, Miller wrote “a play for the screen”, believing that cinema could be a more democratic way of playing his story to the community he was writing about.
Don’t let the buggers grind you down. Try to come over as laid back. They wear a strange eclectic mix of what they see as achingly trendy, or sharp city wear, set off with flamboyant footwear in bright – too bright – poster colours. So wear a dingy blouson over an old cardigan and keep your dignity, simply wipe off their spit when they show their contempt for you. This could be what’s going through Shylock’s mind in Makram J Khoury’s finely calibrated performance, which positively radiates a relaxed gravitas.
The January issue of Jewish Renaissance highlighted the life and work of Czech writer Franz Werfel, who played a significant part in bringing the Armenian genocide to the notice of both Europe and America after he came across survivors living in desperate conditions in Damascus in the late 1920s. He also wrote a devastating novel, based on a defiant stand by Armenian survivors, The Forty Days of Musah Dagh. Nonetheless, a century later, the terrible massacres that began in 1915 are still not universally recognized as genocide, to stand alongside the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide in the record of atrocities inflicted by humankind on their fellows.
The different faiths are rubbing along together until politics and money get in the way and then all sides justify their actions as religious duty and malicious antisemitism provides a rationale for action. Not the Middle East today but Malta circa 1565 in Marlowe’s play, The Jew of Malta.