Less is more for Leeds theatre festival

By John Fisher, June 10, 2013
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Georgie Sherman, Jake Ehrenreich, Ellie Ruhan and Stuart Woolf at the opening of JFest

Georgie Sherman, Jake Ehrenreich, Ellie Ruhan and Stuart Woolf at the opening of JFest

With a shorter title and a reduced programme, performing arts festival JFest kicked off in Leeds at the weekend with a bill of acts from as far afield as New York and Toronto.

American Jake Ehrenreich was the headline opener with a performance of his Broadway show A Jew Grows in Brooklyn. Fusing Roma melodies with North-African rhythms, Los Desterrados had the joint jumping. But so did a rock concert taking place outside the venue in Millennium Square. The noise interference prompted a Helen Mirren-style intervention from festival chairman Stanley Cundle, who remonstrated with concert organisers to halt proceedings — at least until Lord Mayor Tom Murray had addressed the JFest audience.

Overall ticket sales for the five-day event were estimated at 1,600 — in its heyday the festival drew 2,500 patrons. But festival director Ellie Ruhan pointed out that advance sales were up on recent years, adding: “We have gone for quality rather than quantity. Cutting down on shows has obviously paid off. In a Jewish population of some 7,000, the figure offers a nice ratio.”

A failure to attract audiences last year prompted a return to the festival’s erstwhile city-centre stomping ground, The Carriageworks, which Mr Cundle said was “more user-friendly” .

Other festival highlights were Alon Nashman starring as both Franz and Hermann in Kafka and Son and a musical trip down memory lane with 1970s chart-toppers Christie.

Last updated: 11:45am, June 10 2013