saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
30th June 2015
Photography provided by Tammer Productions
Mother-of-three Rivki Pashinsky (Debra Tammer) is delighted when her son Rabbi Michael Pashinsky (Tommy Burgess) finally announces he's found a nice Jewish girl to marry. She not quite be a sheyna maidela, but American businesswoman Devorah Feigenblum (also Tammer) is at least of the right faith. Count your brachot and all that. Mancunian Rhapsody has been written by Tammer and with her playing two thirds of the cast, it's very much her bubala.
Tammer tries to cram as many Jewish ideas and concepts into the show as possible, with Rivki the Jewish equivalent of Madhuri Kumar; a sort of good-natured comedic stereotype, vastly exaggerated but with enough truth to garner plenty of laughs of recognition from those with a similar background. Being a non-believer, the sheer amount of Jewish terminology was equal parts overwhelming and fascinating and by the end of the 60 minutes, I felt like I had not just seen a show, but also been on a crash course in Yiddish. Even though it's obvious those on stage are caricatures, there's still an element of education, which makes this such a interesting project.
It takes a long time to introduce a story arc, and when one comes along, whilst we do get a conflict (and it's a biggie), there's no real resolution. Tammer was apparently inspired by a documentary and that does comes across, because this seems like a day in the life of the Pashinsky family rather than a traditional piece of theatre. As for how to describe Mancunian Rhapsody, that's a difficult one. It's a sort of funny play with musical parodies in it rather than a full blown musical. There's a lot of care in crafting each character and winning the audience over, but there's a very loose narrative and an abrupt ending.
The characters frequently soliloquise, which does make us feel like they're talking to us and inviting us into their world. Despite being overblown and ridiculous, they're also immediately very likeable and friendly. When an audience audibly proffers a collective murmuring of sympathy outside of panto-season without being prompted, you know they've really warmed to the characters on stage. There are some weaknesses in the script, but the protagonists are all energetic and engaging.
Director Rachel Creeger divides the stage into two distinct areas. To one side, a lonely hotel room, sparse and depersonalised, with only a chair and low table with a Travelodge leaflet on it, and to the other, a house packed full of family clutter. Candles, photographs, silverware - the kind of trinkets that let you know it's really lived in. Tidy, certainly, despite cleaner Magda's departure, but a normal house and not a show house. Creeger creates a home, and draws us all into family life with its imperfections.
Given Rivki's fondness for him, there are quite a few Freddie numbers in the show (lyrics Jew-ified, of course) but there are also some other more modern tracks in it, like Moves Like Jagger. It's not all Queen. Rivki's parody of I Want to Break Free is a simple switcharoo of the original words for situation-appropriate ones, delivered with plenty of energy. It's only funny because of her physicality; she really throws herself in it. Where changing the lyrics really works is in the unexpected quips like Michael's sudden serious " don't eat ham" in his parody of Take That's A Million Love Songs or his bemused interjection of "that's a tramp" in his joint parody of Bohemian Rhapsody with his mother. And Burgess has surprisingly strong vocals, most obvious in Michael's rendition of I Dreamed a Dream.
Tammer, Burgess and Creeger are clearly having such a good time, they've having a ball. Let them entertain you or you'll be meshuga. The show isn't without its flaws, but it's nonetheless a lot of fun. Mancunian Rhapsody is lively, daft and above all, really, really Jewish.
Mancunian Rhapsody ran from 23rd to 24th June at the Hen and Chickens and 30th June at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. It will run from 6th to 29th August 2015, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.
Nearest tube station: Highgate (Northern)