theatre interviews

Behind the scenes: First Encounters – Merchant of Venice

"Would Shylock have gone through with the court, had Jessica returned? Absolutely not!"

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In an exciting production from Director Robin Belfield, theatregoers as young as primary school age are being introduced to the Bard in an engaging, thought-provoking and funny new way. The Royal Shakespeare Company is currently touring Belfield's 90-minute adaptation of the Merchant of Venice, which involves audience participation, student actors playing Jessica and Lorenzo and a woman in the role of Shylock. Judi Herman captures the essence of the show in her latest podcast, which features music from the production, verdicts from young members of the audience, and an interview with Israeli actor Shani Erez, who plays Shylock as a dignified businesswoman and single mother.

Photo by Sam Allard

First Encounters: Merchant of Venice tours until Saturday 16 November, visiting Cornwall (29-30 Oct), Devon (31 Oct), Kent (2 Nov), Yorkshire (5-8 Nov) and Nottingham (15-16 Nov). See the JR listings for info or visit; and read our five-star review of the show on the JR blog.

In conversation: Stav Meishar

Find out how a wartime story of courage and daring, which saved a dynasty of Jewish circus artists, made it to the stage

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Israeli writer, educator and theatre artist Stav Meishar is currently performing her one-woman show, The Escape Act, based on a true wartime survival tale. Speaking to JR's Arts Editor Judi Herman, she explains how she discovered the story of Irene Danner-Storm, a Jewish circus performer who survived World War II thanks to the generosity of non-Jews Adolf and Maria Althoff, who hid her in their circus. Danner-Storm was a member of the Lorch family, a German Jewish circus dynasty founded in the 19th century, and not only survived by joining the Althoff Circus, but found love too. In this podcast, Meishar talks about her research and how the resulting show is now part of a whole Holocaust learning experience, which also includes lectures, workshops and an exhibition. She also reveals how she met up with nonagenarian Momo, the Moroccan acrobat who was inseparable from Danner-Storm and her Christian lover Peter the Clown, in a heartwarming story of inclusivity in defiance of the Nazis.

Photo by Kati Rapia

The Escape Act is currently touring:
Saturday 26 & Sunday 27 October. 8pm. £10. CircusMASH, Birmingham, B14 7RA.
Tuesday 29 October. 8pm. £12, £10 concs. The Lowry, Salford, M50 3AZ.
Sunday 22 – Thursday 26 December. Limmud Festival, Hilton Birmingham Metropole, B40 1PP.

In conversation: Isaac Gryn

The Oklahoma! musical star talks legends, legacies and lassoing

© Johan Persson

© Johan Persson

Fresh out of drama school, actor Isaac Gryn (pictured centre) is currently starring in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first hit musical Oklahoma! in the all-singing all-dancing role of Will Parker, rodeo lassoing champ and ardent suitor of flirty Ado Annie, the ‘Girl Who Can’t Say No’. As you might guess from his surname, Isaac is the grandson of the late, great Rabbi Hugo Gryn, Holocaust survivor and for decades the go-to media rabbi, with regular appearances on BBC Radio and deservedly much loved by folk of all faiths and none. Gryn has clearly inherited his grandfather’s warmth and charisma. It comes over in his terrific high energy performance, though whether Rabbi Gryn counted lassoing among his skills remains a secret. Here Gryn speaks to JR’s Arts Editor Judi Herman about the show, its creators and learning to lasso, as well as his faith, family and the legacy of his grandfather.

Oklahoma! runs until Saturday 7 September. 7.30pm, 2.30pm (Wed & Sat only, plus some Thu). £10-£55. Chichester Festival Theatre, West Sussex, PO19 7LY. 01243 781 312.

Read our review of Oklahoma! on the JR blog.

In conversation: James Phillips

Get a behind-the-scenes look at The Rubenstein Kiss courtesy of the playwright

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Playwright James Phillips talks to Judi Herman about the award-winning Rubenstein Kiss. Inspired by the haunting true story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953 for allegedly providing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, Phillips tells their story. The Rubensteins are a deeply devoted Jewish couple, whose Communist idealism leads to their world being torn apart by suspicion and treachery, which then echoes through the generations.

The Rubenstein Kiss runs until Saturday 13 April. 7.30pm, 3pm (Sat & Tue only). £22, £18 concs. Southwark Playhouse, SE1 6BD. 020 7407 0234.

Read our review of The Rubenstein Kiss on the JR blog.

In conversation: Henry Naylor

The award-winning playwright discusses his double bill about the Syrian conflict and 1936 Munich Olympics

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Borders/Games is the new double bill from playwright Henry Naylor, currently playing at London’s Arcola theatre. Borders, he explains, is “the story of the 21st century in 70 minutes – 9/11, bombs, Bono and Bin Laden”. While Games, set in Berlin, 1936, is about “Europe fracturing, antisemitism rising and right-wing populism surging”. Judi Herman, an old friend of Naylor’s from the days when both of them contributed to BBC Radio 4’s topical comedy show Week Ending, caught up with him to discuss his move from comedy to drama. Find out how he was inspired, for his most recent plays, to write about the plight of a contemporary Syrian graffiti artist struggling to use her art to bring down the Assad regime. He pairs her story with that of two promising German Jewish women athletes, who faced horrific prejudice in their bid to compete for their country in the 1936 Olympics.

Photo by Rosalind Furlong

Borders/Games runs until Friday 21 December. 7pm (Mon-Sat), 2.30pm (Sat). £10-£22 (per play). Arcola Theatre, E8 3DL. 020 7503 1646.

Read our review of the double bill on the JR blog.

In conversation: Jenna Augen

The American star of Bad Jews returns to JR OutLoud to discuss her latest role

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It’s the season for Chanukah fun, and laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy with music doesn’t come any funnier than the smash hit show The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Producer Kenny Wax and Mischief Theatre have just announced an extension until at least November 2019! And the good news is that Jenna Augen is to continue in the role of resourceful bank receptionist Ruth Monaghan. Judi Herman and Jenna last chatted on JR OutLoud when she was one of the four stars of another smash hit – Bad Jews – so Judi was delighted to meet up again to talk farce, diamond heists, bad puns, accents, Jewish roles and much more.

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery runs until Sunday 3 November 2019. 7.30pm, 2.30pm (Sat only), 3pm (Sun only). £10-£72.50. Criterion Theatre, W1V 9LB. 084 4815 6131.

In conversation: Robert Neumark Jones

The London actor talks about his role in Stephen Laughton’s One Jewish Boy

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“With the shadow of hatred festering at its very core,” writes Stephen Laughton of his latest play, “[One Jewish Boy] is a bittersweet comedy fuelled by antisemitism.” To discuss this and more, Judi Herman caught up with actor Robert Neumark Jones, who plays Jesse, the title role in this two-hander. The pair delve into Laughton’s story of one Jewish boy and how his his life, love, family and marriage are affected by antisemitism.

One Jewish Boy* runs Tuesday 11 December – Saturday 5 January. 7.30pm, 3pm (phone for matinee dates). £18.50, £15.50 concs. Old Red Lion, EC1V 4NJ. 033 3012 4963.

*Play contains strong language

Read our review of One Jewish Boy on the JR blog.

In conversation: Stewart Clarke

The Fiddler on the Roof actor talks about starring in the new production

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Stewart Clarke stars in Trevor Nunn’s new production of Fiddler on the Roof, playing Perchik the student revolutionary who falls for Tevye’s second daughter Hodl. As the much-loved musical about the poor Jewish milkman, his wife and five daughters by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick prepares to open at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory*, Stewart sits down with JR’s arts editor Judi Herman. The pair discuss tradition and revolution, Anatevka and Siberia, and the resonance of the story of Tevye and his family that has touched hearts and minds worldwide.

Fiddler On the Roof runs Friday 23 November – Saturday 9 March 2019. 8pm (Tue-Sat), 3.30pm (Sat & Sun). £45-£49.50, £39.50 concs. Menier Chocolate Factory, SE1 1RU. 020 7378 1713.

*Performances are currently sold out, but check the Menier website for returns and to register for news of extra performances or transfer plans. Returns on the day of performances are possible for those able to register in person at the box office (opens 6pm for evening performances and 1pm for matinees).

Read our five-star review of the show on the JR blog.

In conversation: Ben Nathan

Semites creator and actor Ben Nathan talks about exploring the common ground between Palestinians and Israelis

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In a world of echo chambers, fake news and fear, Ben Nathan’s Semites challenges polarised perspectives by exploring the one indisputable thing that both Palestinians and Israelis have in common: that they are all semites. A term that is often misused. In this thought-provoking new play Nathan invites you to leave your preconceptions at the door and open your eyes, ears and heart. He spoke to Judi Herman about how and why he came to create this show, in which he and fellow actor Lara Sawalha speak verbatim the words of his interviewees of all persuasions in Israel and Palestine. Although their conversation was recorded before the terrible events in Pittsburgh, they only serve to highlight the importance of this vital sort of dialogue.

Read our review of Semites on the JR blog.

Semites runs until Saturday 3 November. 7.30pm. £15, £12 concs. The Bunker, SE1 1RU. 020 7234 0486.

Semites then runs in Bristol Tuesday 6 - Saturday 10 November. £12, £10 concs. The Loco Klub, Bristol, BS1 6QH. 011 7941 3857.

In conversation: Adam Godley

The Lehman Trilogy actor speaks about starring in the National Theatre production

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As the epic story of the three Jewish brothers from Germany, who founded the company that changed the world, continues to storm London, Judi Herman speaks to Jewish actor Adam Godley. The National Theatre production of this trilogy is performed entirely by a mighty trio of actors: Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Godley himself. They play not only the Lehman brothers, but all their descendants and everyone else in this English version, which they helped to develop with adaptor and playwright Ben Powers, as well as director Sam Mendes, from the Italian original by Stefano Massini.

Photo by Mark Douet

All performances are currently sold out, but tickets will be available on the day in person from the box office (at 9.30am) and during Friday Rush, when a number of £20 tickets are released for all NT shows every Friday at 1pm.

The Lehman Trilogy runs until Saturday 20 October. 7pm, 1pm (Tue & Sat only). £15-£67. National Theatre, SE1 9PX. 020 7452 3000.