Niv Petel

An Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 round-up in reviews

Some fantastic shows are visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, plenty of which have a Jewish cultural interest. There are even a few that our Arts Editor Judi Herman has already reviewed from previous runs and spoken to creatives behind the productions in some cases, so we thought it'd be great to revisit those. Below you'll find the listings info for Knock Knock, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, and Kafka and Son, as well as links to the theatre reviews and JR OutLoud podcasts.

Wednesday 2 – Sunday 13 & Tuesday 15 – Monday 28 August Knock Knock In his own physical solo show, Israeli actor Niv Petel uses his body and voice to explore the effects of National Service on a single mother and her only son in Israel. Knock Knock is inspired by real events in a country where children are destined to be soldiers from the day they are born; their parents, who were all soldiers once themselves, know that one day a knock on the front door might change their lives forever. 7.30pm. £8.50-9.50, £7.50-8.50 concs. C Primo, Edinburgh, EH2 3JP.

Listen to Niv Petel on JR OutLoud:

And read our review of Knock Knock below:


Tuesday 15 – Sunday 20 & Tuesday 22 – Sunday 27 August The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk Daniel Jamieson’s The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk follows the story of a young couple, Marc and Bella Chagall, as they navigate the Pogroms, the Russian Revolution, and each other. Times vary. £21.50, £16.50 concs, £9.50 unemployed. Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, EH1 2ED.

Click here to read about the making of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, an article that featured in the April 2016 issue of Jewish Renaissance and read our review below:


Tuesday 8 – Monday 14 & Thursday 17 – Sunday 27 August Kafka and Son An award-winning, five-star, sell-out hit show on four continents from Canadian writer, director and performer Alon Nashman. At age 36, Franz Kafka wrote a monumental letter to his overbearing father that would change the course of his life and fiction forever. A blistering, often hilarious dissection of domestic authority, Kafka and Son is a revelatory visit with one of the architects of the modern psyche. 11.40am. £10-£11, £9-£10 concs. Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ.

Listen to Alon Nashman on JR Outloud:

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

Review: La Strada ★★★★ - Fellini’s bleak and beautiful road movie makes for a haunting musical journey on stage

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.

Director Sally Cookson’s vision for La Strada is as collective as the circus in its story travelling the bleak roads of post-war Italy. As well as composer/lyricist Benji Bowers and ‘Writer in the Room’ Mike Akers, she has gathered a 13-strong team of actor/musicians to tell the story of simple little Gelsomina, the waif sold by her mother to the sinister strongman Zampano to be his gofer, replacing her sister who has mysteriously died. Canadian Audrey Brisson, the enchanting Bella Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk last year and a singer/musician and circus performer brought up in Cirque du Soleil, holds the centre as this obstinate innocent, around whom life swirls bewilderingly out of her control. Diminutive, graceful, acrobatic and supremely expressive, with huge eyes that dominate even this steep auditorium and haunting voice singing the wordless refrain that is her theme, hers is a compelling presence.

True there is first one and then a second (male) constant in her life in the abusive Zampano (Stuart Goodwin, a magnificently convincing strongman with a heart as hard and unyielding as its enclosing chest muscles that break an iron chain in his act) and kind and gentle Il Matto, the fool and tightrope walker whose mission is to liberate Gelsomina (Canadian Bart Soroczynski, proving he is equally at home in the circus and at the RSC with a performance as tender as it is spectacularly physical).

But it’s the ensemble work from the multi-talented ensemble representing many nations that creates the road, the run-down cities, seedy bars and circus gigs out of thin air with just a few props, sharing the narrative and the atmospheric music. Italy, Finland, Corsica, Vietnam, Canada and Israel are all represented, the last by the wonderfully versatile Niv Petel, so effective in his own solo show Knock, Knock about bereavement in Israel’s conscript army. To him go the honours of opening the show – and providing that most evocative of musical accompaniments, the harmonica. He is extraordinarily watchable, but of course he never pulls focus.

See it for the eerie beauty of Katie Sykes’s set, dominated by a single telegraph pole and brought to colourful life by this extraordinary company. Watch as they conjure a motorbike with a few tyres and find out whether Gelsomina can make her escape and take control of her life. An evening of sad and wondrous collective storytelling.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Robert Day

La Strada runs until Saturday 8 July. 7.30pm (Mon-Sat only), 2.30pm (Thu & Sat only). £20-£39.50. The Other Palace, SW1 E 5JA. 08442 642 121.

Knock, Knock, Niv Petel’s solo show, runs Wednesday 2 – Monday 28 August. 7.30pm (daily; except 14 Aug). £6.50-£10.50. Edinburgh Fringe, Venue 41, C Primo, EH2 3JP.

Read our review of Knock, Knock or listen to Niv Petel on JR OutLoud.

Two consecutive evenings, two talented young Israeli performing artists, both with so much to offer



I rounded off October by spending two consecutive evenings being excited and challenged by the work of two talented young Israeli performing artists, both with so much to offer. Niv Petel is heartbreaking in Knock Knock, his beautifully nuanced account of a devastating situation faced by too many Israeli families, and Hagit Yakira attracted full houses for her exciting new work Free Falling.

Petel is an extraordinary physical actor, wonderfully convincing as a devoted mother whose son is the centre of her life. An engaging and important contribution to our understanding of life in Israel. And at Sadler’s Wells last week, dancer/choreographer Yakira presented four talented performers falling and recovering again as they take what life throws at them. Supporting each other, their eyes and faces as important as the rest of their bodies as they look out for each other. In a beguiling add on, three more dance artists responded to Free Falling – including full audience participation on the studio floor, everyone linked in a joyful dance – a sort of Hora at Sadler’s Wells, which makes Israeli dance so welcome. Niv Petel and Hagit Yakira are certainly names to watch.

Continue through the blog to read our reviews of Knock Knock and Free Falling, as well as an interview with Niv Petel, or click the names to go straight to each one.

by Judi Herman

Review: Knock Knock ★★★★ - A beautifully nuanced account of a devastating situation

knock-knock-ectetera-theatre-niv-petel-writer-and-performer-credit-chris-gardner-6 Clad simply in a white top and khaki trousers, to which he adds such details as a white apron, Petel bowls a blinder by playing the mother of his young conscript. He stacks the emotional stakes high – she's a single mother and an army therapist, trained to tell bereaved parents the worst, to make that dreaded knock on the door, and to work with them through the grief and loss that will form part of the rest of their lives. For most of the show Petel talks intimately and affectionately to his son. The account of their intense relationship is beautifully paced, starting with Ilad as a babe in arms and then as a toddler; at kindergarten, then junior school; as stroppy teenager and, inevitably, at 18 preparing for the draft.

Petel’s is a beautifully nuanced physical performance that takes the audience with him through the whole of what we know is to be a tragically short life. There's a moment of hope when we discover that as an only child, he can opt out of active service; we live with his mother through the nail-biting agony of trying to dissuade her son from choosing service to prove himself. But mothers must let go if children are to grow up at all.

With the aid of designer Rhiannon White the show is made up of an extraordinarily simple set and minimal, versatile props to set off the physical and vocal skill and simplicity with which Petel tells his story. White lives up to her name, for everything on stage is stark and clinical: a table, chair, telephone and the towel that Petel winds first into baby Ilad and then almost everything else needed to tell his tale. Under lighting designer Oliver Bush’s equally stark white light, the feel is of a waiting room, a surgery or a morgue – perhaps a waiting room in the afterlife even. The only other colour is the khaki of those trousers, suggesting that Petel is Ilad, as well as his mother, which is a touching duality. Overall, Knock Knock is an engaging and important contribution to our understanding of life in Israel.

By Judi Herman

Knock Knock runs until Sunday 6 November, 7.30pm, £8-£10, at Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High St, NW1 7BU; 020 7482 4857.

Listen to Niv Petel talking about Knock Knock on JR OutLoud