Mercury rises as LJCC reaps Fringe benefits
What do you get when you mix Freddie Mercury with a neurotic Jewish mother named Rivki Pashinsky and her rabbi son with a childish secret? Add a tumultuous day for a sleep-deprived paramedic who is slowly losing the plot and you have a choice of theatrical viewing at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, which is hosting both A Mancunian Rhapsody and An Insomniac's Guide to Ambulances during next week's Camden Fringe Festival.
Through her production, company Time2Shine, Insomniacs Guide writer-director Rachel Creeger has forged a strong partnership between the Fringe and the LJCC. The 41-year-old came up with the idea for the play after spending sleepless nights in conversation with friend and real-life paramedic Aryeh Meyer. From Meyer's anecdotes - and Creeger's memories of her time as a social worker - the plot took shape.
"It's like a homage to the ambulance services," she says. "Everything we feature was either experienced by Aryeh or myself, or reported to us. I spent ages meeting paramedics and finding out what their most ridiculous call-outs were. Some things are funny, some things are sad. We really wanted to capture the authenticity of the profession."
There is crowd involvement in the production - "I don't like keeping the audience separate because it feels strange to pretend they are not sitting in the room with you.
"There are times in the show when the house lights are up and the cast are talking to you. In another scene, audience members are asked to call the paramedics and report 999 incidents. Things are different every night, which adds to the drama. We've had a really positive audience response so far."
Creeger says that being an Orthodox Jew has not held her back in mainstream theatre - and it's the same for South Hampstead shul-goer Debra Tammer, whose musical comedy A Mancunian Rhapsody is her Fringe debut.
"Thirty-nine going on 15" Tammer says her show combines the music of Queen and Jewish stereotypes. "It is all about this woman called Rivki who is trying to escape the domesticity of her life while preparing for Shabbes dinner. Like many religious people, she has a secret guilty pleasure - hers is 1980s music."
Sweeping her away across the stage with broom in hand, Tammer replaces the lyrics to I Want To Break Free with I Want to Clean House, raising questions along the way about the seeming mundanity of religious life."It's something I'm so familiar with. As a people, we are able to laugh at ourselves and I think that when you miss that, you are missing a trick. There is no subject that's off limits from talking about - although my mother would disagree."
The classically trained actress, who studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, likes "to do comedy with a message. That's why I have on my flyer the line, 'It's a kind of tragic'. My characters are funny but they are also flawed, just like the rest of us. We can all take something away from it. After all, who doesn't love Freddie Mercury?"