Dame Maureen and Tracy-Ann star in the great Jewish stage extravaganza

Nicole Lampert writes in her Showbiz Diary about what Jews are up to on stage and screen

August 11, 2022 15:22

They’re two of Britain’s leading Jewish stars — and theatre-goers can enjoy seeing both Maureen Lipman and Tracy-Ann Oberman back on stage soon.

Dame Maureen will be starring in Rose, the play by Martin Sherman exploring the history of Jews in the 20th century, and centring on a Ukrainian-Jewish woman who becomes a refugee in the Second World War.

Looking forward to the revival later this month of the drama first performed in 1999, she told me: “The play is not just a resume of the 20th century but it reminds of us the individual hell of the refugee. It begins in the Ukraine. It could not be more relevant. Every word is magical and I am one of the people of the word.”

Writer Sherman recalled: “I wrote it when the millennium was approaching and I had lots of feelings about Jewish life in the 20th century and was feeling hopeful for the future.”

Sherman had originally had Dame Maureen’s distinctive voice in mind when he wrote Rose after working with her on another of his shows, Messiah.

She was deemed too young to play the 80-year-old lead character, leaving Olympia Dukakis to take the role and earn an Olivier Award nomination.

This seminal work had been all but forgotten until the pandemic shut all the theatres. The Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester staged it online as a one-woman show with Dame Maureen in a fundraiser to keep the venue open during lockdown in 2020. Demand was so great it was screened on Sky Arts.

Now Rose is going on stage at the Hope Mill from 30 August before moving to London’s Park Theatre on 13 September.

Sherman tells me: “I think Maureen would have been hesitant to have just done it on stage if we hadn’t done it to stream first. Her performance is everything you could wish for; a mixture of impeccable technique and the ability to live and breathe in the moment.”

Oberman’s long-awaited staging of The Merchant of Venice — in which she plays a Shylock relocated to 1930s Cable Street —finally opens at the Watford Theatre in the spring. Tracy-Ann, who in recent years has become a leading campaigner against antisemitism, says of the spate of shows: “We are a tiny community but we fill a lot of column inches about imaginary tropes and assumptions. In recent years people have talked about us a lot. This is a chance for us to retell and reanalyse our stories, our archetypes and our narratives.

It also feels like this is a moment where people — particularly in the arts world — are beginning to understand that it is time to take the archetypes about us, reframe them and retell them in a way that speaks truthfully for us. It is a really great moment for Jews in the arts.” The result is we’re now spoilt for choice. Last week I saw the revival of Bad Jews at the Arts Theatre. I found it incredibly powerful, but can see why friends thought it was akin to Jews putting out our dirty washing.

There are just a few more days to go to the Almeida to see Patriots, The Crown writer Peter Morgan’s play about Jewish oligarch Boris Berezovsky; the multi-award-winning Cabaret at the Playhouse Theatre’s Kit Kat Club continues to attract big crowds, while Joseph the musical is touring the country.

Next month sees the premiere of Jews: In Their Own Words at the Royal Court, first mooted by Oberman and written by JC columnist Jonathan Freedland. Also in September The Band’s Visit starts at the Donmar Theatre. Based on a successful film, it is about an Egyptian police band who are meant to be playing for Arab Israelis and get stuck in the wrong town in the Negev.

Then in October, David Tennant and Elliot Levey star at the Harold Pinter Theatre in Good, the Holocaust play by CP Taylor about a liberal academic who is slowly seduced by the Nazi way of life.

Jews in the News

  • Adam Sandler (above) has been creating some brilliant content for Netflix – the film Hustle has been particularly well received – and I’m intrigued to hear his latest project is called You Are SO Not Invited to my Bat Mitzvah! It’s a family affair: as well as Idina Menzel and Sarah Sherman, it will star his daughters Sunny and Sadie and wife Jackie. Based on a book by Fiona Rosenbloom, it is about what happens when a girl’s bat mitzvah plans comically unravel.

  • I’m looking forward to new Sky Atlantic drama Munich Games by Fauda writer Michal Aviram. Set 50 years after the Munich massacre, it is a political thriller about two agents, one Israeli, one German, who must work together to stop a terrorist attack at a German vs Israel football game.

  • Emulating the peerlessly handsome looks and style of Cary Grant might seem a tall order, but if anyone can pull it off it’s surely Jason Isaacs (right). The star of the Harry Potter films has been cast in the lead role in ITV’s new four-part drama Archie (Grant was born ‘Archibald Leach’). Grant’s Jewish ex-wife Dyan Cannon is executive producer for the upcoming show.

August 11, 2022 15:22

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