The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill, Finborough Theatre, 3 December 2017

This was a very interesting Sunday evening at the Finborough.

Here is a link to the Finborough resource on this play/production.

The playwright, Israel Zangwill, sounds like a fascinating character in his own right. To some extent the story in the play mirrors his story, although the play is set in New York, not Zangwill’s native London. Also, the play’s young hero is a composer, rather than an author.

The young hero of the play, David, is a refugee survivor of the Kishinev (Chișinău) pogrom, inspired to compose music to celebrate the cultural melting pot he finds in New York. He falls in love with a beautiful Russian Christian radical who is running a settlement house in New York and who turns out to be the daughter of an anti-semitic Baron from Bessarabia. How culpable is the Baron for the pogrom that took place on his watch? And how is the young love going to go down with him and with David’s traditionally orthodox but loving kin?

If that all sounds a bit melodramatic to your taste, I can understand the sentiment. Yet somehow Zangwill manages to avoid those excesses, at least in the hands of this Bitter Pill/NeilMcPherson/Finborough production. The play isn’t quite Ibsen, but it is even less like a melodramatic Yiddish Theatre monstrosity.

Indeed the play seems hugely pertinent today, with many minorities being persecuted across the globe still, plus swathes of refugees and migrants on the move. Zangwill includes both sides of the assimilation (or perhaps I should say acculturation) and ethnic tolerance argument, although you are left in no doubt that you have been in the hands of a liberal enthusiast of the melting pot.

Grandpa Lew, sitting, with his musician brother, Great Uncle Max, standing

Of course I cannot help this piece bringing to mind my own family – in particular my mother’s musical family, who came to London from the Pale of Settlement in the early 1890s.

I wondered briefly whether Israel Zingwall might have taught my Grandpa Lew at the Jews’ Free School, as the programme says that Zingwall taught there, but a little on-line research indicates that Zingwall quit teaching at that school a few years before Grandpa Lew made his fleeting appearances there (between periods of survival-oriented child labour truancy).

Returning to the Finborough in December 2017, the place was deservedly full on a cold, wet Sunday evening. In the bar and audience we saw Michael Billington, with Mrs B making a (now rare/occasional) appearance at the theatre. The Billington’s dedication to high-quality fringe theatre over the decades is exceptional.

Reviews, if/when they appear, should be covered by this search term – click here.

Janie and I highly recommend this production.

Dolphins And Sharks by James Anthony Tyler, Finborough Theatre, 24 September 2017

Interesting play this, an award-winner from New York, getting its first airing in Europe at the Finborough.

The Finborough on-line resource describes the play and production well – here.

It is a comedy and it is a funny play, yet the issues in the play about unfair work practices and about attitudes between different minority communities in New York are both poignant and prescient.

The tiny Finborough had been turned into a sort-of Harlem copy shop with the audience all on one side for a change.

The young woman who checks your tickets took pains to ask us not to throw our rubbish in the bins because they are props. We though it was so obvious that they were props that it was almost embarrassing for her to have to tell us this.

But some dumb mf’s has bi dumpin’ dair trash in de set.

In truth, it did take us both a while to get used to the Harlem street talk used in the play, but either it or we settled down quite quickly to that aspect.

The plot was quite slow to build, but by the end of the first half (which was probably two-thirds of the play in fact) the plot was simmering and we were keen for the second half.

That shorter act, after the interval, was very pacey and well done.

The cast were excellent and you can see why this play won awards in the USA.

We picked up some Persian food from Mohsen on the way home. Janie was in a bad mood at the injustice of life as depicted in this play. So it is fair to say that the play was more than a little affecting.

Well done Finborough – another high quality find, well produced.

Continuity by Gerry Moynihan, Finborough Theatre, 13 August 2017

After Daisy suggested last week that heavy plays like Bodies at the Royal Court were currently doing her head in, it was a bit late to change plans, but it did occur to me that Continuity was unlikely to lighten the mood.

Continuity is basically a monologue about a member of the Continuity IRA and his personal journey.

The Finborough page on the play/production explains it all very well – here.

In this production the performer, Paul Kennedy, is simply excellent. Although it is a monologue – a story told in the first person by a narrator – he acts out some of his colleagues dialogue using ticks and gestures to indicate who is talking.

It is hard to see this play without thinking about Jez Butterworth’s outstanding play The Ferryman, which was recently at the Royal Court and is now deservedly wowing audiences in the West End.

Continuity is comparatively very understated. The Ferryman was surely written with the West End and Broadway in mind. Continuity was probably written with radio and/or small theatres like the Finborough in mind. But Continuity is still extremely effective and affecting. Where has this writer, Gerry Moynihan, been all these years? One to look out for again, to be sure.

Daisy agreed with me that the piece was excellent, but it did also make her reconfirm her determination to select a lighter batch of plays and avoid the heaviest subjects next time around. But when she suggested musicals and farces as the alternative, I guessed that her tongue is to some extent in her cheek.

Jam by Matt Parvin, Finborough Theatre, 16 June 2017

This was not the best Friday evening Janie and I have ever had.

First stop was the Finborough Theatre – our latest hot place – in several senses of the term that evening – it had been a scorcher of a day and was still well hot early evening. The heat in part explains our irritability.

I deposited our “friendship form” with the delightful volunteers at the ticket desk who were unsure what to do with the form, making an almighty fuss about it until someone senior enough came downstairs, grabbed the form and took it away. By this point, Janie was convinced that the senior response was inadequate in the circumstances, whereas I was convinced that it was fine; all I had wanted to do was save myself the price of a stamp by handing the thing in rather than posting it.

We were there to see Jam by Matt Parvin – click here for Finborough resource.

The acting was superb and the subject-matter really interesting, but Janie and I both found it nigh-on impossible to suspend our disbelief in the behaviour of the characters,  in particular the school teacher, given the situation.

Before any savvy readers start to think that we read reviews and then find ourselves seeing the production as reviewers would have us see it, I should say that it is our habit studiously to avoid reading reviews until we have seen a production and formed opinions for ourselves.

But on this occasion, our friend, Michael Billington’s review in the Guardian – click here – sums up almost exactly how we felt and how we discussed it in the minutes/hours after we left the theatre.

David Ralf in The Stage is kinder on the piece; “a touch contrived”. He is also full of deserved praise for the quite excellent performances by the two on stage; Jasmine Hyde and Harry Melling – remember where you heard the names first.

Long before we got to the theatre, Janie and I had agreed that we had a crazy craving for Persian food – Mohsen’s. This craving was only exacerbated by references to the Iranian origins of the teacher character in the play.

But it turned out that Mohsens is closed for a refurb at the moment.

No matter, we thought, Alounak is still there and not such a detour for us. Well, we used to be fans of Alounak’s food, but the standard seems to have declined considerably – at least to our taste. Now we can hardly wait for Mohsen to reopen.

Not the most successful Friday evening ever – but then there was still Saturday evening to come and that turned out to be an altogether more pleasing experience…

…I guess it was a case of “jam tomorrow”.

Footprints on the Moon by Maureen Hunter, Finborough Theatre, 4 June 2017

Janie and I have been meaning to try the Finborough Theatre for ages. Eventually we got round to booking a couple of productions this June – Footprints on the Moon being the first of them.

What a friendly place.

We went on a Sunday evening for this one and it was lovely to have a drink in a quiet local pub before strolling upstairs to take our seats in the theatre. Perhaps when we go on a Friday or Saturday night, the pub will heave a bit like the The Bridge beneath The Canal Cafe Theatre or The Prince Albert beneath The Gate Theatre.

But I digress.

Footprints On the Moon is set in a remote town in the Canadian prairies, the town being loosely based on Indian Head, Saskatchewan, from whence the playwright hails.

Being a tiny theatre club operating on a minuscule budget, naturally the Finborough has an excellent on-line resource with information about the production and quotes from reviews – click here. It simply wouldn’t be possible for a big beast like The National theatre to do this, would it?

But I digress again.

Footprints On the Moon is a very well-written chamber play centring around a feisty female character, Joanie, who has rich thoughts but is trapped in her small town world. We learn at the end of the play that she has never been beyond her immediate prairie environment, not by train, not by plane. She doesn’t want her daughter to move to Toronto, where Joanie’s estranged husband now lives.

It was written and is set in the 1980s, so there are no cell phones or internet connections either. Janie and I discussed afterwards whether that particular type of parochialism has gone for ever in the internet age.

Anne Adams as Joanie was excellent, as was Derek Hagen as the love interest and Samantha Coughlan as Joanie’s loyal friend. Sally Cheng did a decent job as the sultry teenage daughter, although looked a little too senior to be quite such an immature broody teen.

This is a claustrophobic (in a good way) chamber play – we never leave Joanie’s stoop/dining room – such plays work especially well in small theatres like the Finborough.  The second half of the play worked better than the first half for me, although I enjoyed the whole thing – Janie if anything preferred the first half.

We were both quite tired on Sunday evening yet came away delighted with our evening of theatre and looking forward to our next visit.

We shall be signing up as friends of the place next time we go.