Sunday 29 October 2017

Imagine This - Review

Union Theatre, London


Music by Shuki Levy
Lyrics by David Goldsmith
Book by Glenn Berenbeim
Directed by Harry Blumenau

Set amidst a Jewish theatre company, in the hellish conditions of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, during the Holocaust, Imagine This sees a cast of actors rehearse a telling of the story of Masada, ostensibly to appease the city’s Nazi occupiers by telling a tale where “all the Jews die at the end”. During their show’s rehearsals they provide sanctuary to a Ghetto resistance fighter, hiding him among themselves in plain sight as a cast member. 

The Warsaw Ghetto (like Masada) is famous in history as having been one of the few locations where Jews fought back at a regime that sought their destruction. However, not withstanding the epic backdrop to Imagine This, its previous incarnations in the West End and at Plymouth both failed to capture an audience. Harry Blumenau’s production at the Union however manages to shed the show’s previous blunders, succeeding in telling a harrowing and touching story with tenderness and care in a production that is filled with heart and trauma.

Watching a show within a show, it can be  easy to lose track of which plot you’re following and the book of Imagine This is found to be quite flawed. There isn’t enough character development in the main narrative, with the first act spending too much time on the story of Masada, rather than letting the audience get to the know the ghetto characters themselves.

Lauren James Ray and Shaun McCourt are a beautiful leading couple as Rebecca, an actress in the company and Adam the hidden resistance fighter, eager to find his younger brother whom he fears has been kidnapped by the Nazis. The two are stoic and strong in their performances, embracing a stillness that compliments the material. Shuki Levy’s stunning score does not require jazz hands or split leaps and the solemn feel of the piece is entirely respected within this, as the two give flawless vocal performances.

In contrast to this there is a welcome and needed comic relief in Robert Wilkes portrayal of, Pompey a Christian servant to a Roman general within the Masada story production – he offers a charming and much needed respite from the harrowing surroundings of the piece, with his comedy number in act one, No More, showing not only a talented actor but a much skilled singer. Joining Wilkes in this interjection of comedy is ensemble member Richard Dawes as Aaron, another Masada character. Dawes showcases a powerful and controlled voice and when he and Wilkes duet in the second half with Don’t Mind Me, we see just one example of Kevan Allen’s simple but beautiful choreography.

Though a smaller role and a character who is deeply conflicted throughout the piece, the most notable performance that must be given its dues is that of Abbey Adams who plays Naomi, one of the actors. Natural and effortless Her song I Am The Dove in act one is unexpected but showcases a stunning voice and wonderful presence as she comforts Daniel’s son. Similarly her performance at the show’s end, where the cast are faced with a terrifying decision, is deeply moving as the similarities between Masada and the Warsaw Ghetto are thrown into stark relief. Adams is very much the dark horse of the show. 

Blumenau’s helming of the show is well thought out and as a directorial debut he should be commended and feel justly proud. He has worked well with Justin Williams’ sparse but beautifully detailed set, that leaves the audience (in a deft nod to the show’s title) to imagine much in what they see. 

Probably not suitable for younger children, Imagine This is a beautifully moving piece of theatre.  Sensitively performed and emotionally exhausting.

Runs until 18th November
Reviewed by Charlotte Darcy
Photo credit: Nick Brittain

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