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A CurtainUp London Review
The story has been crafted to tell the tale of a company of entertainers led by actor-manager Daniel Warshowsky(Peter Polycarpou) who carry on their productions from inside the Warsaw Ghetto. The twentieth century story is paralleled and interspersed with scenes from an earlier act of resistance by a group of Jewish zealots who fled Jerusalem to a cliff top fortress, Masada, against the forces of the Roman Empire in 70 CE.
Daniel plays the leader of the Masdada rebellion, Eleazar and Daniel's daughter Rebecca (Leila Benn Harris) plays Eleazar's daughter Tamar who is the object of affection from the Roman General Silva (Simon Gleeson) played by Adam, a fugitive in the ghetto. As the situation inside the ghetto intensifies and the Nazis plan to train the Jewish population to Treblinka, Daniel's theatre company is asked to mount a play to keep things calm on the evening before everyone is due to embark on the trains to what few suspect will be the death camps. Daniel is offered free passage for himself and his family to Switzerland if he complies with the Nazi instruction.
The music is rather samey in the Les Miserables mould but not unpleasing. Love ballads and slow anthems about resistance but David Goldsmith's lyrics leave much to be desired. Michael Matus as Izzy in the ghetto and the slave Pompey in Masada, has the best of the comic songs and the best lyrics of the night in a jaunty number about the Roman deities, "Aphrodite was too flighty, Eros left me unfulfilled, Apollo's hard to follow and Poseidon's far too deep, I sat in front of Hypnos and he put me right to sleep. " Yes this is as good as Imagine This gets lyrically! There are a few set piece dance items nicely choreographed, one for Salome with interesting Egyptian style sand dance hand movements to the song, "Mothers please don't name your daughters Salome" and another of Roman soldiers. The fight sequences are impressive as Silva's arrest is ordered by fellow Roman, Rufus (Gary Milner).
The performances are uniformly very good with Leila Benn Harris' lovely pure voice a highlight of the show. Peter Polycarpou has considerable experience and is an all round actor and singer. The audience liked Michael Matus' comic roles and I shall always remember Cameron Leigh as Lola, the woman who didn't want to give up her fur coat. The set and costumes are accurate in the 1940s and parallels are made between the Nazi swastika red and black banners and those of the invading Roman army with the Imperial Eagle. The first entrance of the German soldiers is a crashing invasion of black suited storm troopers ordering the march to the ghetto in the snow. The set is like a fortress with broken windows at balcony level.
The programme explains that the historical act of resistance at Masada, the staging of which I found quite shockingly tragic, was actually an inspiration for those who continued to fight in the Warsaw ghetto until 1943. Their important and inspiring story needs to be told but I doubt this musical version of events will endure.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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