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Friday, 15 February 2013

The Mystery Of ‘Is And Seems’

MUCH.ADO.01As the Jewish world prepares for Purim –  a day of  unbridled carnival hijinks – Israeli audiences have revelled in a rollicking production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

The Purim story fizzles with slander, sex, corruption and attempted mass murder. How then, I wonder, would  Shakespeare  have handled it? Paul Stebbings and his team from TNT Theatre, Britain are just the guys to tell us.

Purim playlets include mischievous, even ribald dialogue, topical allusion and loads of slapstick. Even more,  the Purim story and Much Ado are both great tragi-comedies bearing finely wrought warnings  of how defamation may destroy.

MUCH.ADO.02Stebbings’s production is experimental. It employs a self-edited compacted script, heavily influenced by the  British literary critic Professor Frank Kermode and  Polish theatre director,  Jerzy Grotowski, whose concept of ‘poor theatre’ uses few actors with ragtag costumes, minimal props and no scenery.

The result is rip-roaring, yummy farce. The crowd at Zichron Yaacov’s Beit Nir Theatre loved the tomfoolery, the madcap dancing and the  panto-style  audience participation. Hearing words like chutzpa and mazel tov  during the church wedding scene topped the lot! They were ecstatic.

So we had huge fun scarred by small  disappointments. Mucking about with the play’s innards left its soul wandering in the dark and this Bardolater went home feeling peeved. Pity, that.

* The show was also staged in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Rechovot.

* TNT plans to return to Israel in March 2013 with their version of Romeo and Juliet. Stebbings’s notes and a video clip for the show are available online. The gang is  back on form with R & J – make no mistake.


Spreading slander and causeless hatred often go hand in hand. So it’s inevitable that  Jewish tradition insists on  harsh penalties for both. Indeed, scholars say that the destruction of the Second Temple and the Jewish exile were the result of baseless hatred (sinat hinam).

By fortunate coincidence, Lord Sacks, the retiring Chief Rabbi of Great Britain touched on this  issue the day after I saw Much Ado.

CHIEF.RABBI.05He’s been in Israel, partly to launch Radical Responsibility, the festschrift published to mark his retirement from office. While here he also visited Tel Hai Academic College near Kiryat Shemona where he addressed a United Jewish Israel Appeal audience about  the challenges now facing Israel and international Jewry. The event was part of a mission to the UJIA’s northern projects.

I am unable to quote him verbatim but he appeared to break no new ground, pointing to anti-Zionism as the new antisemitism and warning that the Jewish community is still riven by the same internal strife that has ever poisoned it.

I would appear malicious, Heaven forbid, if I were to recount Lord Sacks’s chequered relationship with the Anglo-Jewish Progressive community since he took office in 1991. So by way of a reminder I’ll post a link to a Jewish Daily Forward review of  his most recent self-authored book, The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning, which throws some of the more painful incidents of his incumbency into sharp relief.

CHIEF.RABBI.01Unfortunate matters aside, Lord Sacks socialised with several of my personal friends during a reception at Tel Hai. He shook one woman’s hand and engaged two others in warm conversation about the suppression of moderate Moslems by Islamist extremists.

He in turn would probably be intrigued if not thrilled to know that both women read regularly from the Torah at our Masorti congregation in Karmiel. But his pleasure would be undiluted if he knew that all of us attended a Tenach shiur (Hebrew bible lesson)  after  our return on Monday evening. What’s more, the session began with a précis of his talk at Tel Hai.


Someone else who’s not everything she seems is British journalist, Julie Burchill. She’s taken a thousand farcical tumbles in a jumbled life and compensates somehow for a squeaky infant speaking  voice with an attitude so abrasively over-confident that it’s almost endearing. Julie.Burchill

How or why she’s developed an ardour for Judaism and Israel is quite incomprehensible. Perhaps if she were to trace her family tree back far enough she’d find a Jewish link somewhere just as there have been several out-marriages in my family. There’s nothing more Jewish than an abundance of brazen cheek so it wasn’t that surprising that when  interviewed this past week on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, she insisted that her books should include not a bible, but The Torah.

Funny, that! When Lord Sacks was left on his island the year he took office, he opted for The Talmud. If marooned together they might get on quite well with a good supply of pina colada. In the short term, anyway ….


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