by Harold Rome, based on the novel by Jerome Weidman

Arcola Theatre to 23 March 2002
Mon to Sat 8pm
Runs 2hr 30min One interval

TICKETS 020 7503 1646
Review Danny Braverman 27 February

East End theatre goes back to its original use as a clothing factory for sparky, site-specific musical.In its first anniversary production the Arcola Theatre in London’s East End returns to its original use as a clothing factory. The traverse audience sits amongst plastic-wrapped garments and wallows in the authentic ambience of workers at industrial sewing machines and steam presses. The two-man band of piano and violin place us firmly within a familiar Jewish cultural milieu.

We are then treated to the Faustian tale of Harry Bogen, a New York scab entrepreneur whose relentless pursuit of a dollar causes the inevitable betrayal of friends and family. The talented cast rises admirably to the challenge of a full-scale musical and Lisa Douek and Hannah Penfold’s imaginative site-specific design demonstrates that a good musical doesn’t need the pouring in of endless resources to tell a story well.

Though the cast fight with the complex rhythm of a couple of numbers, the songs are delivered well and with feeling. But the show’s greatest strength is in the acting of the songs. Fiona Branson, as Harry’s mother, is particularly impressive – rising above the potential pitfall of the Jewish mother stereotype to offer us a moment of sublime pathos when she sings Too Soon.

Rosanne Priest’s staid Ruthie also comes into her own when her courteous façade drops as she rages at the immoral Harry in the bitter On My Way to Love. Joseph Wicks as Harry has the toughest job and – although charming in parts – he ultimately fails to convince that he has sufficient charisma and ruthlessness to gull so many people.

However, it’s Nichola Lagan as Miss Marmalstein, Harry’s ditsy secretary, who gives the performance of the evening – with superb comic timing and outstanding energy.

Despite being slightly schmaltzy, the show – like a good yiddish nosh-up – balances both sweet and sour flavours. Yes, we get large helpings of sentiment – but also the chill of the sweatshop workers coming out of the shadows to proclaim their powerlessness and the contemporary irony that the capitalist finds himself solvent and back behind a desk moments after bankruptcy.

Miss Marmelstein: Nichola Lagan
Mr Pulvermacher: Philip Anthony
Harry Bogen: Joseph Wicks
Meyer Bushkin: Reg Eppey
Blanche Bushkin: Nancy Baldwin
Sheldon Bushkin/Manette: Nicola Cunningham
Teddy Asch: Craig Scarborough
Tootsie: Ian Midlane
Ruthie: Rosanne Priest
Martha Mills: Jodi Mulcahy
Mrs Bogen: Fiona Branson

Directors: Mehmet Ergen, William Galinsky
Designers: Lisa Douek, Hannah Penfold
Lighting: Steve Barnett
Musical Director: Dan Shaffran

2002-03-04 02:14:47

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