Stage, rage and Sappho's cage

By Maureen Lipman, February 10, 2013
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The play that kept me out at night for four months has closed and the only culture I've seen is yeast in the bread machine. I will spend the week catching up on theatre… but first, I'm at the London Jewish Cultural Centre to take part in a discussion on Jewish Mum of the Year. If a heated debate is expected, then the panel will go solar.

One of the "mums", Emma - tanned and washboard-stomached - defends her participation, cites, several times, her mothering of five kids and generally bemoans the fact that she didn't win. Her husband accuses me of having played "funny" Jews often enough myself, which cannot be denied.

The Guardian's John Crace, who reviewed it negatively, is the chair. I am alone on the panel in my belief that the show was an alarmingly lowbrow piece of reality tat, which did us no favours in increasingly antisemitic times. I'm trying to keep my good humour but I'm a Grumpy Old Woman and it shows.

I cite "agenda-based editing" and the cynical choice of Dovid Katz, a larger-than-life Yiddish scholar as judge. I say he is a physical and verbal type I've never seen in 65 years, save in amateur productions of Fiddler on the Roof.

One lady says she has pupils who have never seen a Jew and they were impressed by the show's "kindness". We have just seen a clip of abject cattiness between the older, "homely" candidate and the younger glamour-puss.

Another "mum" says: "I don't know how you can criticise us… I saw you in Old Money and you played a horrible woman!"

"If I played King Lear do you think I should try not be mean to my nice daughters?" I reply. "Old Money was a play.''

To be honest, I didn't take it that seriously. But the Ham and High put the debate on their front page. They accuse me of calling Dovid Katz a "fat, greasy yob". He is a university professor - a yob is an ignoramus. There may be much wrong with my opinions but not with my semantics. I realise civil war is wearisome.

So, Tuesday has to be a treat. I go to Cirque du Soleil at the packed Albert Hall. At £95 a ticket, with a £10 programme and an £8 glass of plonk, it has to be ravishing. It isn't. Wednesday brings a charity tea for Chai. The talk turns to Jewish Mum. I'm beginning to wish I was living on a small island off the coast of Laos -– where is Kirsty Young when I need her? My luxury? A face transplant?

Thursday is Old Times, the new Pinter at the Pinter (Harold's dream come true). I am with Emunah, which sounds like a Jewish rap singer but does sterling work at sterling ticket prices. My guest is my actor chum Larry Lamb. The two lead actresses alternate roles, which must make it fascinating for them… but if we have to sit through this twice I think Larry will spontaneously implode.

"Gemme out of 'ere!" he snarls. "Bleeding Emperor's new clothes." The actors are fine but the script is like someone holding back a secret you really don't want to know.

Friday is the purchase of boiling fowl - I'm teaching seven auction-winners to make soup.

On Saturday, I have a duty call. I must go and see a friend's daughter play the poet Sappho in a pub theatre in Stoke Newington. I want this gig like I want necrotising fasciitis. Where is Stoke Newington? Glumly, I pay my £10, then with the other 19 people feel my way down the narrow, steep steps into a 40-foot cellar with some muslin-covered scaffolding, cat's- cradled with ropes.

From two of these hangs Victoria Grove, tall, athletic with a voice like cous-cous, reciting ancient Greek, skimming over the bars and under the ropes, breathing beauty, vibrating with intelligence and giving me the best theatre experience I've had since, well, New York, 2011 and The Book of Mormon.

Mormon Mum of the Year? Why not? It would certainly let me off the hook.

Last updated: 10:45am, February 10 2013