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
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
In a life-affirming show woven from the true story of her great-grandparents, Canadian writer Hannah Moscovitch uses klezmer and drama to tell the tale of two refugees arriving in Nova Scotia in 1908, having fled the pogroms in Romania. Here Moscovitch reveals more about Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, a double award-winning show (on the Edinburgh Fringe 2017) with real contemporary resonance and relevance from Canada’s 2b Theatre Company.
By Judi Herman
Photo by Stoo Metz Photography
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story runs Thursday 17 – Saturday 19 May in Bristol as part of Mayfest. 7.30pm (Thu-Sat), 2.30pm (Sat only). £5-£21. Bristol Old Vic, BS1 4ED. https://bristololdvic.org.uk
In the Wanamaker Playhouse’s candlelit space Jon Bausor’s clever set divulges sinister built-in drawers of files. Conspirators plotting treason discover the hard way that a mole is privy to their plans. Religious refugees fleeing to England in the wake of massacres on the continent find themselves unwelcome in isolationist Britain. Late 16th-century London feels a lot like a John le Carré thriller set right now. And indeed playwright Anders Lustgarten owes his title to le Carré, who wrote “espionage is the secret theatre of our society”.
Welcome to 1850 – a genuine welcome to political refugees from Europe, including 32-year-old Karl Marx. But is he in danger of outstaying his welcome as he goes on the razzle through Soho, funding his pub crawls by trying to pawn the family silver? His wife’s family that is, for Jenny von Westphalen is of aristocratic German stock, her relatives scandalised by her marriage to the penniless Jewish revolutionary. As young Marx himself puts it “at our wedding I was only invited to the reception”.
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.
Some years back, I interviewed Rabbi Jonathan Black for radio, making a cameo appearance in EastEnders conducting a Jewish wedding. Not already a viewer, I duly researched by watching an omnibus edition and learned how you ‘gotta talk’. Jewish (non-Orthodox) 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).
When witty Jewish writing duo George Kaufman and Moss Hart wrote this back-of-the-movie-lot comedy, set at the birth of the talkies, neither had been to Hollywood, but they knew enough about the goings-on in the movie business to know it would suit their satirical wise-cracking style. Kaufman co-wrote The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers for the Marx Brothers and this witty habitué of the Algonquin Round Table never lost his sense of sarcasm. He said about one play: “I saw it under adverse conditions; the curtain was up!” The plotlines in their collaborations were primarily Hart’s while Kaufman focused on the witty, sarcastic dialogue.
How strangely Miller’s first great hit resonates with today, in ways no one could have predicted. This beautifully measured play opens with shots of laidback family life in a typical American small town where everyone knows one another. Comfortably-off factory owner Joe Keller’s backyard is a focal point, where he and the neighbouring doctor are reading the papers. “What’s today’s calamity?” jokes David Horovitch’s amiable Joe. Cue gales of ironic audience laughter, with the US election so raw.
For a play that unfolds like a Greek tragedy, it’s surprising how much laughter is built into these opening scenes. But that’s the point: drama, and especially tragedy, is an interruption of routine.