Our theatre critic, John Nathan’s highlights include two shows inspired by Jewish artists:The Lovers of Vitebsk at The Sam Wanamaker theatre, a magical retelling of the life of Chagall. The Pianist of Willesden Lane at the St James Theatre was an evening of music and drama, inspired by performer Mona Golombek’s family story. He also loved David Baddiel’s blisteringly frank one-man show My Family, Not the Sitcom. I’d add another contender for Jewish theatrical production of the year, the Manchester Royal Exchange’s adaptation of Howard Jacobson’s The Mighty Walzer. Not only was this our most Jewish novelist’s most Jewish book — complete with an exhibition in the foyer about Jewish table tennis in the 1950s, courtesy of Manchester’s Jewish Museum — but it also boasted brilliant performances by a cast including Tracy-Anne Oberman and Elliot Levey.
In film, the stand out was unquestionably Son of Saul, Hungarian film-maker László Nemes’s extraordinary debut, which, though made in 2015, went on general release in the UK in April. Nemes had the courage to set his film in the heart of the Auschwitz killing machine, and the art and humanity to make it unbearable and yet watchable. “Even in the darkest hour of mankind, there might be a voice within us that allows us to remain human,” he said, accepting the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
Other films of note include two Philip Roth adaptations —with James Schamus’s, Indignation, starring Jewish actor Logan Lerman, beating American Pastoral hands down, according to our critic Anne Joseph. My own Jewish film of the year was a Dutch rom com Moos, a sweet coming-of- age tale by director Job Gosschalk, with more heart and wisdom than anything from Hollywood this year.
Drake had a new album, Jess Glynne continued to top the singles chart, and Craig David had the comeback of the century, but stars of an older vintage outshone them. Paul Simon’s tour was a triumph, Carole King’s Hyde Park concert was a dream come true for fans, and then Bob Dylan topped them all by winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In dance, Israeli companies visited the UK frequently, showcasing the most exciting contemporary choreographers and performers. Natalia Osipova continued her rise at the Royal Ballet. But dance critic Joy Sable’s event of the year took place in Regent’s Park and involved a multi-cultural crowd dancing along to klezmer bands from around the world. She praised the Jewish Music Institute, organisers of Klezmer in the Park, and their entire Klezfest, this year bigger, more international and more ambitious than ever before. And the Jewish arts venue of the year has to be JW3, with its eclectic mix of events.
But organisations like UK Jewish Film make sure that you don’t have to live in north London to get your fix of culture, organising screenings in Jewish centres such as Redbridge, Glasgow and Borehamwood and offering a rich menu of videos on demand.
Channel Four’s foreign language streaming channel Walter Presents featured its first Israeli series — entertaining rom com, Beauty and the Baker. On Netflix, musical comedy My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about a neurotic Jewish lawyer, obsessed with her ex. Our critic Charlotte Oliver was all set to hate it but was won over by the way the show deconstructs: “What it means to be a woman, to be Jewish, to be ‘crazy’— to be a person, really — in one fell swoop.”
If there’s a common thread here, maybe it’s the way Jewish artists and art communicate multiple versions of what it is to be Jewish to a wider audience, thus increasing understanding, awareness and imagination.