Israeli Theatre

JR reviews two ★★★★ picks from Edinburgh's International Shalom Festival: rap opera The City and documentary Disturbing the Peace

The City ★★★★ – Israel's Incubator Theatre makes its Edinburgh debut at Shalom - just three years after protests prevented it from being part of the Festival Fringe

One highlight of the International Shalom Festival is the return to Edinburgh of Jerusalem's Incubator Theatre with their hip-hop opera The City, a clever homage to all those private dicks who walk the mean streets of the city trying to solve crime. The City is entirely written in rhyme, combining rap, hip-hop and spoken word to tell a tale of vanity, lust and murder. This is the company targeted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators in 2014, which meant they were unable to perform at the Fringe. So it's all the more exciting and gratifying that they are at last making their proper Edinburgh debut. When JR's Arts Editor Judi Herman saw The City at JW3, London, where it played three sold-out performances in the aftermath of the Edinburgh protests, she was inspired to write the following four-star review in rhyme.

I’m telling you, friends, get down to The City,

A fast-moving show that’s mighty witty.

Israelis rap in English rhyme,

A dark twisted story of a web of crime.

A private dick, just an ordinary Joe,

Meets a mystery blonde and goes with the flow.

If you can get a ticket, you will too,

It’s a sparky performance from a versatile crew.

A band and beatbox, shared imagination,

The City never gets lost in translation…

The City runs Tuesday 8 – Thursday 10 August. 11.30am, 4pm, 8pm (Tue & Wed only). £12.50, £9.50 concs, £8 NUS. Drummond Community High School, Edinburgh, EH7 4BS.


Disturbing the Peace ★★★★ – Searing testimony from fighters for co-existence in Israel/Palestine

Some fine thought-provoking feature and documentary films are part of the entertainment and dialogue at the Shalom Festival, with filmmakers and activists involved in that discussion between Israelis and Palestinians taking part in post-show discussions and Q&As.

One in particular is the documentary Disturbing the Peace, from directors Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young. The film follows an activist group called Combatants for Peace and tells the story of these former enemies – Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters, many of whom served years in prison – who have decided to join forces in order to work towards a peaceful resolution and to stand up for what they believe in. The two screenings of Disturbing the Peace will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session.

Disturbing the Peace runs Wednesday 9 & Thursday 10 August. 3.30pm (Wed), 1.30pm (Thu). Free. Drummond Community High School, Edinburgh, EH7 4BS.

Judi Herman saw Disturbing the Peace at the 2016 UK Jewish Film Festival and you can read her four-star review below:

Click here to find out what else is going on at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review: 5 Kilo Sugar – Gur Koren’s tale is bittersweet magic realism

5 kilo sugar So your late grandfather assumes the role of a fairly benign dybbuk (malevolent spirit) and enters the bodies of a variety of unsuspecting hosts, mostly Israeli (as we are mostly in Tel Aviv), to gee you up to right what he perceives as a historical wrong perpetrated during the 1940s in post-war Eastern Europe. It’s not quite on the same scale of the vengeance that, say, Hamlet’s father demands. All Grandfather’s co-survivor and landsman (person from the same village) has done is slope off when the pair are apprehended for trying to sell smuggled sugar on the black market, leaving Grandfather to face the music and two months in a Russian labour camp. But Grandfather is rankled in death, as in life, and now he’s spotted a chance to set the record straight, for the cowardly landsman's historian of a grandson, Yoad Riva, is writing a book about his grandfather.

This is the clever, quirky premise of Gur Koren’s moving, funny chamber piece, which opens a window onto the past, to remind us that it is always with us, particularly in the case of second and third generation Holocaust survivors, and especially for Israelis.

This is a lovely intimate piece of writing, with a hero who engages one-to-one with his audience (it’s a mockumentary, so we're cast as a TV or film audience) that gets the production it deserves by director Ariella Eshed.

The cast of four work wonderfully together and tackle the different roles that most of them get to play with relish. Tom Slatter’s Gur Koren is indeed engaging and sympathetic and gets a lot of fun out of the surreal situation of talking to people who are being ‘occupied’ by grandfather’s ghost – and explaining to them that when he addresses what is apparently the air (shades of Hamlet again) he is actually doing a monologue to camera. Spencer Cowan’s Yoad Riva is both funny and appealing, trying to trade sexual favours for that mention in the book, and Shia Forester and Micah Banai have the intriguing job of playing everything from 'bored prostitute' to 'well-read taxi driver' and 'Dostoyevsky aficionado', most of them morphing into bodies possessed by grandfather so he can engage with grandson Gur (so playing a personality within a personality – most of them expansive).

This tale has a real feel of the magic realism of Isaac Singer.  When I saw the show, it was taken to the collective heart of its hugely enthusiastic and eclectic audience, who guffawed and cheered appreciatively in this tiny (hot and sweaty) fringe theatre. Eshed’s Tik-Sho-Ret Theatre (the name means communication in Hebrew) aims to give a platform to Israeli and Jewish theatre in the UK and encourage collaborations through cultural and artistic exchange and to promote communication and co-existence. Perhaps this is the production that will achieve all that in its forthcoming run in Edinburgh, after the debacle of last year’s beleaguered shows from Israel. Unsurprisingly the Israeli version has been running since 2009.

By Judi Herman

Hear Ariella Eshed and cast members talking to Judi post-performance at London's Etcetera Theatre:

5 Kilo Sugar runs Friday 7 – Saturday 15 August. 10.25pm. £7-£9. theSpace on the Mile, Edinburgh EH1 1TH.

Review: Judi Herman discovers drama and comedy on a women’s cancer ward in Anat Gov’s Happy Ending

Happy Ending (3) - c Piers Foley_press2015 Entering a space equipped with hospital beds and drip-stands, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in an operating theatre, rather than the kind with lights, action and music. But then Happy Ending is a play about women facing up to life with The Big C; cancer.

Managing it as best you can usually means coping with invasive, uncomfortable and time-consuming therapy, time spent on a hospital bed hooked up to a drip stand. Not the stuff of which musicals are made. Well, there’s a lot less blood than that shed by Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and fewer lives lost than on the barricades manned by students in the Paris revolution of 1870 central to Les Misérables.

This is a meditation on and exploration of how we face up to cancer. There’s a lot of fighting talk at the moment in ads for cancer charities urging us to take on the disease and beat it at its own game. But the conclusion of Happy Ending is that there are different coping strategies and different outcomes – no right or wrong way to face and fight cancer – and sometimes we have to make our own choices. We may share those choices with those who care for us or we may choose not to. I say "we", as it is easy to identify with the four brave women on stage, who each embody different ways of coping and many of us have faced (or will face) their choices.

But Happy Ending is of course is a musical show and although Anat Gov’s story explores the issues from the inside (she died from cancer in 2012), she manages to be funny and uplifting en route for the "happy ending" she writes for her central character actress and minor celebrity Carrie Evans, newly diagnosed with the disease (a delicate and detailed performance from Gillian Kirkpatrick).

There are some original and unexpected dance routines – drip stands make elegant partners – there’s a Gospel chorus and even cancer itself is embodied by an attractive young man (Joe McCourt) in a steamy tango. There are killer lines too (yes, the gallows humour is catching): “There’s nothing like the smell of fresh cancer in the morning," says one patient, old hand Silvia (played by the excellent and feisty Andrea Miller). She has been fighting cancer with every treatment possible for so long that she is almost like the top dog in a prison drama (or the block elder in a camp). This lady is a survivor of Auschwitz, so how can she let cancer get the better of her?

Carrie (Gillian Kirkpatrick), Miki (Karen Archer), Silvia (Andrea Miller) and Sarah (Thea Beyleveld) gossip in the ward following Carrie’s arrival

Silvia is one of the other three women who embody different ways of coping with their cancer. Miki (the bouncy and attractive Karen Archer) is an ex-hippy who has found so many positives in her diagnosis that she almost has a new lease of life. For a start it has led to a reconciliation with the estranged daughter she neglected during her days of tuning in, turning on and dropping out. Then there’s the devout young Orthodox mother of many, Sarah (Thea Beyleveld, both touching and convincing in her fervour) who trusts in her faith in God to get her through – though she does not trust her yeshiva student husband to look after the children and the plumbing at home.

Yes they are types, but they turn in great performances, as do the supporting (literally) cast of nurses and doctors, led by cheery dedicated nurse Fiona Jodie Jacobs (perfectly channelling a type I recognise from my own recent spell in hospital) and hunky Dr Lynch (Oliver Stoney), the alpha male medic who might have stepped out of any TV hospital drama – cold and caring at the same time.

Director Guy Retallack and Hilla Bar, who adapted the story from Hebrew, have relocated the drama from Israel to North London with the odd mention of, for example, Parliament Hill. Shlomi Shaban and Michal Solomon provide songs that are more stand-out moments of exploring Gov’s theme than the score of a musical moving along the plot or illuminating the characters.

By Judi Herman

Happy Ending runs until Saturday 7 March.  7.30pm (also 3pm Wed/Sat). £12-£19. Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin St, E8 3DL; 020 7503 1646.