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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the New London


  Peter Polycarpou with Nathan Attard/PH: Alastair Muir

It can -and has been - argued that there are certain subjects for which popular musical treatment is inappropriate - the Holocaust being one of them.

Oblivious of the dangers inherent in musicalising just one aspect of the profoundest, most shocking crime of the 20th century - the incarceration of Polish Jews in the Warsaw ghetto - book writer Glenn Berenbeim, composer Shuki Levy and lyricist David Goldsmith - have undertaken the impossible task of of putting words and music not only to the sufferings of the Jews in Warsaw - but the Jews who fled to the hill fortress of Masada after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 66AD.

For their musical, which they call Imagine This, they have devised a show-within-a- show formula in which a group of Jewish actors, confined to the ghetto, decide to put on a show about the plight of their forefathers in Masada who chose suicide to capture.

Berenbeim and his creative team are nothing if not ambitious, and had they miraculously managed to achieve the impossible and pull it off, they would have been hailed as geniuses.

Unfortunately the talent needed to turn their dream into a reality is nowhere in evidence, and what might have been called ambitious must now be called foolhardy.

That said, unlike some of its detractors, I never found Imagine This offensive. There is a serious intent behind it which, despite its failings, I admired. The subject, quite simply, is too big, too emotional, too heartbreaking and, in the end, too overwhelming to be strait-jacketed into a West End musical.

Apart from the fact that the songs are, at best, only serviceable, the Masada sequences, which occupy at least two thirds of the show, are terminally boring - and that's something I do find offensive. The scenes in the ghetto itself have more impact and are more involving.

Fortunately, things improve in Act Two when the show's two elements are better integrated.

And of course, you have to put your belief on hold where the scenery and props for the Masada sequences are concerned. No use asking where the spears came from or the period costumes. Indeed, Daniel (Peter Polycarpou) who has devised the entertainment, asks his audience, just as the prologue in Shakespeare's Henry V (and the title implies) to use their imaginations. What we're seeing, presumably, are the fruits of that imagination.

The physical aspect is impressive, with Eugene Lee's sets and Tim Mitchell's lighting lending a solid sense of professionalism to the undertaking. It's directed efficiently enough by Timothy Sheader and the actors do what's asked of them with as much conviction as the material allows.

In the end, though, the challenge is simply beyond them.


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