Review: The Latke Who Wouldn’t Stop Screaming

Having seen and been enthralled by The Gruffallo and Room on the Broom the expectations of theatre group Tall Stories production The Latke Who Wouldn’t Stop Screaming were high. Tall Stories know how to capture an audience’s imagination and transport them in to the eccentric world of children’s literature with assured wizardry, and they do not disappoint with Limony Snicket’s The Latke Who Wouldn’t Stop Screaming.

The set is a mesmerising and alluring throw back to the kind of Busby Berkeley stage design in 42nd Street; the cut out windows in the silhouetted townscape are back lit to produce a Tim Burton-esq spooky feel. Miniature houses, with a light dusting of snow occupy the downstage space and the characters run through the audience, as if through the town, in an excitable opening moment.

The Latke Who Wouldn’t Stop Screaming is a tale of a Latke who cannot find his place in the world and runs screaming until he eventually finds a home with a Jewish family. On his journey he meets a string of talking Christmas lights, Miss Candy Cane and a (Christmas) tree, all who want him to be a part of their festivities; but as the Latke explains the story of Chanukah and his purpose for being he realises how different he is and it is this dissolution that propels him to keep screaming.

There is humour in the telling of the Latke’s story and in the excellent use of space and props, shown skilfully in the transformation of a house into a giant dreidel, a hat into a Latke puppet and a superb enactment of the Chanukah story told entirely with vegetables. There is music and song which carries the production, a cross between kletzmer, jazz, country and Christmas carols. The Latke Who Wouldn’t Stop Screaming has a narrative that is charming with a lovely moral, it seeks to express that even if we are different we will always be welcomed somewhere. As The Latke, Tom Banks brings an unexpected humanity to a fried potato pancake and is supported expertly by the slick, multi-talented cast.

We laughed, we gasped, we tapped our feet and we even joined in to this delicious production. It lagged a little towards the end but recovered, as all great plays should, with a biting finale.

Lemony Snicket’s The Latke Who Wouldn’t Stop Screaming is running, literally and metaphorically at JW3, who co commissioned the production with The Roundhouse, until January 4th.

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News: Sports Direct

A major high street chain has issued a prompt apology after a security guard at its Borehamwood branch refused entry to two Yavneh school pupils, telling them “No Jews, No Jews”

 

The group of pupils, including two 11 year old boys were shouted at on Friday, by the guard as he pointed at the badges on their Yavneh school uniforms. The two year 7 boys, Nathan Rosen and Daniel Levitan, who had just completed their first week of secondary school, left the store traumatised at 2.20pm. Other Yavneh school children, who wore coats concealing their uniforms, were not refused entry. Sports Direct removed the security guard from the shop floor and were reportedly very apologetic.

 

On Sunday, Sports Direct issued Nathan Rosen’s father David Rosen with an email apology, within it Senior Independent Director Simon Bentley, clarified that the security guard was removed and “we have been advised by the security company’s owner, he is being let go by that company.” Bentley goes on to say “The statement he made was entirely contrary to the company’s policy and offensive.” Bentley followed this with a formal apology, “On behalf of Sports Direct, I apologise for the distress and trouble that your son and the others involved have suffered.” Bentley ended the apology by stating “We take pride in the lack of prejudice amongst our trained staff; who are encouraged to show respect to all our customers whatever their religious denomination.”

 

In response to the apology Rosen said “I am content with the apology from Sports Direct but I will still report this to CST and the police.”

 

David Rosen was unable to contact Sports Direct via telephone so utilised social media to demand an apology for the incident, where he described his son’s experience, “His first week of school as an 11 year old and a lasting memory will be an obvious act of anti Semitism in a predominantly Jewish area where a not insignificant number of your customers are Jewish.” He finished the complaint by stating, “A non response will be deemed a flagrant fanning of the flames of anti- Semitism.”

 

Rosen took to Facebook again to express his reasons for escalating the incident, “My message is to expose anti-Semitism in any form and to ask Sports Direct to positively confirm that Jews are welcome at their stores.” A determined Rosen explained, “They messed with the wrong father and I won’t let this go lightly.”

 

Daniel Levitan’s mother Judith Levitan said “Daniel text me at about 2.45pm and told me what happened and I told him I would come down.” When Judith spoke to the manager of Sports Direct she was told “it was a contracted security guard and it was really nothing to do with Sports Direct and that I wasn’t the only mother who had been in.” Judith along with other parents, asked for the guard in question to come out and speak to them “but he appeared to be on an indefinite coffee break.” She then explained, “I therefore called Inter Security and managed to speak to a Tina McCubin who is the manager in charge of retail security.” Levitan was assured that the incident would be looked into but has yet to receive a response. Levitan said “I have been on the receiving end of anti Semitism but I was angry and disgusted that my 11 year old and his friends had to experience this in their first week of school.”

 

Other minor incidents were also reported to have occurred throughout Friday.

Review: Making Stalin Laugh

David Schnieder’s new play Making Stalin Laugh retells the story of the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre. It chronicles the history of the impassioned company that continued to create exceptional theatre in spite of Stalin’s oppressive regime.

Set in the theatre, the action switches between on stage and backstage. We are first introduced to Solomon Mikhoels, played with magnificent magnetism by Darrell D’Silva, bathed in a spotlight as he addresses the audience. The enigmatic Mikhoels was the heart of the company and the most celebrated Yiddish actor of his time, Schneider depicts him with both light and shade.

The first act sets up the relationships of the well cast characters, all of which are connected by their mutual love, awe, admiration, jealousy and camaraderie of Solomon. In Mikheols leadership of his troop it is hard not to draw a parallel to Stalin. Schnieder conveys the essence of a theatre company with not only accuracy but wit, whilst maintaining a slow undercurrent of ominous inevitability.

Director Matthew Lloyd incites an eerie sense of foreboding when a beautifully backlit Benjamin Zuskin (James Holmes), recites a stirring speech from King Lear. As the superior second act races to an emotional and heart wrenching conclusion, Solomon repeats the line “We have to carry on. It’s the work that counts.” The distracting scene changes can be forgiven because it is in this spirit of survival that the play excels, as a celebration of theatre, Judaism and Yiddish.

Making Stalin Laugh successfully encapsulates the tenor of fear, murder and subjugation of its time and achieves balance in the scattering of Schnieder’s well placed but not overpowering humour making this a truly powerful and significant play.

Tales from the Wood: Phone Addict

My name is Fiona and I have a confession, I am addicted to my phone. I am a compulsive phone checker, thumb swiping, button clicker. I make this admission publically because it has to stop. I am outing myself as an over avid phone watcher because I fear that it is consuming my life.

My pulse races as I rush to answer a call, it blinks Dad back at me. I restlessly refresh my email, a click and a whoosh and in they fly through my virtual letterbox and land at my feet with a bleep. John Lewis is having a sale, Clarks have 20% off, my Dad has sent me an eCard or forwarded me a cartoon Rabbi singing a Yiddish song. My heart quickens at the beep-beep of an incoming text (also my Dad) and my agile fingers effortlessly type a reply in seconds. Refresh and refresh again, I want more.

Disappointed, I scroll along Facebook, whose birthday is it today. Where have they checked in? Twitter, The Daily Mail.com. It’s not enough to look out the window, I touch The Met Office App, to confirm the temperature. Recheck, I must have more. I carry my phone with me, cradling it in my palm. It slides into my back pocket ready to whip out like a pistol loaded for continual checking. It accompanies me to the bathroom and lies next to my bed. I wait for it to light up and if it doesn’t I bite my needy knuckles and tap tap until something appears. I am never without it, I cannot be without it. This has to stop.

Of course this is an exaggeration. I am not running an empire from my phone and I’m not addicted. But, I know also that I am certainly not alone. To a degree we all do this, we are all always logged on. Some would argue that this is a positive thing, that we are more communicative due to the very portable technology that keeps us in the loop, even on the loo. Do we always need to have our fingers on the perpetual pulse of each other’s lives? Have we let our phones swallow up our capacity to communicate normally, even verbally? I can’t remember the last time I had a chat on the phone to a friend (and not just to my Dad). We exchange texts back and forth like tennis balls in the grand slam of how are yous and let’s get togethers. And what is worse, when we do meet up, kids playing and us tea drinking, we still steal a glance at our devices, only a little peak, a quick check, just in case there is that catastrophic nightmare scenario, whereby we miss something essential.

I know you do it too. I have seen you. I have proof.

I sat in the children’s service at shul on Yom Kippur and the Dad next to me asked if I wanted to play a game. I raised my eyebrow conspiratorially and bid him to go on. His game was to spot the hidden mobile phone. So, there we were singing about the Ten Commandments and playing at being spies. I searched the circle of parents for the offender, the sinner within our midst. My unsuccessful spy skills were not as honed as this seasoned spot-the-phone-at-shul-pro. I threw in the towel and asked him to nicely point out the culprit and as he did, I saw for myself, the criminal take a shifty sideways glimpse at his phone. My mouth opened aghast in horror, for even I managed to leave my phone at home. Maybe he was tweeting: In Shul #hungry. It’s not just at Shul, it’s in the cinema, at the park, at birthday parties, whilst driving the school run. Thank you for kindly updating us mid journey of impending blocked roads and temporary traffic lights.

Do we really want to hide behind an electronic device as a means of chronicling our lives and communicating to the people within it? Do we really need to update the world about our children’s every achievement and runny nose? Or, be in incessant contact with everyone we have ever known day (or night)? Actually, we do not. Let’s unsubscribe, sign out, shut down and reconnect with each other, lay down our phones and back away.

I set myself the ultimate experiment. I relinquish my phone and imprison it within a drawer. Set it to silent and pretend it does not exist. How long can I survive, how long can I cope not being connected? Freedom fills me, lightness becomes me and then I hear a gentle hum, it entices me. I resist. It hums again. I cannot stop myself, the drawer opens, just one final last infinitesimal look (it’s my Dad).

Review: Lorna Luft

As Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft’s unmistakable voice fills the Crazy Coqs, there is no doubt that the star has arrived. In this intimate cabaret setting her presence sparkles, raining star dust on the audience as she cuts through the crowd to the stage.

Luft is playing at the Crazy Coqs with her solo show Accentuate the Positive and never has there been a show that stays so true to its title. Unlike her famous sibling Liza Minnelli there is no darkness in her voice. Sure she belts out the numbers with flair but there is an air of positivity that radiates throughout the entirety of the show which is laced with humour and a sprinkling of sentimentality but mostly there is a strong sense of celebration.

Luft dedicates part of the show to the masterful Jewish songwriter, lyricist and singer Johnny Mercer; this is her love letter to him. She races through medleys from the great American song book with speed and levity, no sooner has your foot started tapping in time to Too Marvellous then she switches to Make Someone Happy, her variety and virtuosity is phenomenal.

It would seem churlish to start comparing her to her legendary mother but it is impossible not to. The vibrato in Luft’s voice is too familiar, as is that glint in her eye and the way she works the stage. In a poignant moment where footage from The Judy Garland Show is projected of Garland singing Lorna (a song Mercer wrote especially) to her daughter, it is evident that Luft has accepted her legacy.

Accentuate the Positive is a show bursting with spirit and yet there is a real comfort in hearing treasures such as Moonriver and Something’s Got to Give. Luft shines with What Did I Have That I Don’t Have Now, her voice almost too big for a cabaret venue, but what a treat to be witness to such talent.

Review: Daytona

Elli (Maureen Lipman) and Joe (Harry Shearer) are a seemingly ordinary married Jewish couple in their seventies. We meet them ballroom dancing around their apartment. Elli quickly wraps herself in a fur coat and hat and hurries off out of the action to get her dress fitted ready for their entry in a ballroom dance competition, leaving Joe alone to finish his accounting. The buzzer rings and with a gust of the New York wintery air, in puffs and blows Joe’s long lost brother Billy (played superbly by John Bowe). We are as intrigued as Joe is, to his sudden and unexpected reappearance. Joe quietly listens and questions Billy’s arrival and so do we.

 

The first act of Oliver Cotton’s new play is a slow but intense unravelling of the past and the gradual telling of the shocking occurrence at Daytona Beach. The second act, where Lipman is quite magnificent, undresses and redresses the heartbreaking secret shared between Billy and Elli.

 

Daytona is an actors dream, rich with monologues, where the reactions are as delightful as the words spoken, it’s reminiscent of Neil Simon and Arthur Miller. The lovely use of off stage space entices us into their world, adds pace and allows the characters to physicalise the drama, watch out for a flying spring roll. Shearer’s soft restraint compliments Bowe’s brash Billy, like a waltz the highs and lows swing as the characters battle with their own truths. It’s gripping yet not a thriller, thought provoking yet not heavy. A subtle Jewish humour spreads ripples amongst it and yet, as Lipman explained to me “It’s not like I’m running around schlepping chicken soup.”

 

Cotton perhaps sacrifices the exploration of its darkest theme by placing the spotlight instead on the characters and their intertwined relationships. Daytona tackles identity, love, deception, truth and whether or not it’s right to seek revenge. Its success is not in the story itself but in the way it is told. Quick-step to the Park Theatre and see it before it transfers.

Review: The Last White Night

Paul Saltzman’s documentary The Last White Knight, playing as part of the UK Jewish Film festival, is a powerful and chilling reminder of recent American history. Canadian Saltzman, retells the events in 1960s Greenwood Mississippi that lead to him being punched outside the courthouse, by Ku Klux Klan member Delay de la Beckwith. It finds him reconnecting with Beckwith 43 years later and posing the question “Is reconciliation possible? “

The documentary chronicles a series of conversations between Saltzman and Beckwith that re-examines their personal connection and the events that surrounded it. Saltzman moved to Mississippi to support the civil rights movement. It was his involvement as a white Jewish male attempting to facilitate the black vote which lead to the attack by Beckwith. Saltzman quizzed Beckwith on his intentions “we didn’t want you to be involved,” he explained with a menacing smile and without remorse.

Saltzman fills in the historical gaps by interviewing both sides of this racially charged documentary. It is at times uncomfortable viewing, particularly when he speaks to three active Klansmen who explain “we are the superior race, they were created to be servants” referring to black Americans. They continue “it’s not hatred we feel, just pride in our own race.” Saltzman juxtaposes this with Morgan Freeman, still a Mississippi resident, who wisely describes that the race issue only exists in the mind and that “there is no difference in genetic structure.”

The Last White Knight details the assignation of civil rights leader Medgar Evers by Beckwith’s father Byron de la Beckwith and seeks to question why he was not convicted until 1994. There is a strong feeling that the many crimes that were committed in 1960s Mississippi have not been brought to justice. Harry Belafonte repeats “I don’t trust Mississippi” and it is easy to understand why.

Saltzman splits the screen at the conclusion of the film, portraying a Beckwith-Saltzman show down. Jew faces white supremacist and controversially Paul Saltzman bravely admits that he likes Delay de la Beckwith, despite wholly disagreeing with his ideology. The Last White Knight is more than just thought provoking it is an important documentary.