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Friday, 14 August 2015

Jewish talent multi-tasks at this year's Edinburgh Fringe

By Naomi Firsht, JC
Jess Robinson and her Wheel of 64-tunes
Jess Robinson and her Wheel of 64-tunes
The theatre world has once more decamped to Scotland for perhaps the most important date in the industry's calendar: the Edinburgh Fringe. Among the circus acts, stand-up comedy, and musicals, this year sees a liberal sprinkling of Jewish talent and Jewish-themed performances.
Musical impressionist Jess Robinson, also known as Mighty Voice is bringing a new version of her show The Rise of Mighty Voice in a return visit to Edinburgh Fringe.
The former Edgware Reform member who describes herself as "inherently Jewish in how I look and speak" impersonates more than 50 singers and celebrities in her show, accompanied by on-stage pianist Kirsty Newton.
This is a first solo outing for Ms Robinson, 32, who has worked for years as an impersonator, including parts on TV for Rory Bremner's Election Report and Dead Ringers. In 2013 she played the starring role in a UK tour of musical Little Voice.
She said: "The only way to get your perfect show together is to do it yourself. It's so much fun to do what I want to do – to do something that is maybe a bit old-school variety, but a bit out there."
"And I like to challenge myself," she adds, perhaps unnecessarily considering her opening number has her performing a three minute song in the style of over 50 different singers.
Ms Robinson covers a spectrum from Judy Garland to Lady Gaga and the highlight is the "wheel of 64-tunes" which requires her to improvise a performance based on which song and celebrity two large, brightly coloured wheels land on.
Jewish jokes also feature when the comedian talks about her mother and grandfather – deceased jazz pianist, Jules Ruben.
Edinburgh Fringe is hugely important for artists like Ms Robinson looking to create their own shows.
Debra Tammer reads the JC on stage (Picture: John Fisher)
Debra Tammer reads the JC on stage (Picture: John Fisher)
"I suppose for artists it's a bit like setting up a stall at Earls Court; it is like a trades' fair. It's such a hub of creativity and artistry and fun, and there is nowhere else in the world like Edinburgh Festival for us," she said.
A Jewish home life is central to the plot of Debra Tammer's Mancunian Rhapsody which tells the story of an orthodox woman trapped by the domesticity of her life – who also has a bizarre obsession with Freddie Mercury.
Writer and South Hampstead Synagogue member Ms Tammer describes the show as "musical comedy satire". She said: "I was inspired by ITV's Strictly Kosher a few years ago. I found it quite entertaining because some characters were larger than life, and I felt I needed to write about them. That was the spring board."
This will be an Edinburgh Fringe premiere for Ms Tammer, who has been writing for 10 years now, alongside teaching drama and doing private coaching at the synagogue. She plays two characters - the central character, housewife Rivki Pashinsky and Devorah Feigenblum, Rivki's future daughter-in-law; the play is directed by Rachel Creeger.
The challenge was getting non-Jewish audiences to understand the themes in the show. "It's a question of getting people in who are not just Jewish. It's Jewish-themed but it is also universal.
"So far feedback has been brilliant. They get it. It's in the style of documentary so things are explained."
The play has sold out in Leeds, Manchester and London. And Ms Tammer is hopeful for Edinburgh. "It means a lot to perform there. It is an amazing platform. I'm excited about what it might lead to and also about being around other great artists", she said.
Time-travelling pirates in Captain Morgan (Picture: Hayley Muir)
Ben Behrens, 24, from Bristol is looking forward to his second performance at Edinburgh. The University of Bristol drama graduate transformed his dissertation into a successful show.
Captain Morgan – split into parts one and two - is a swashbuckling adventure story about two pirates discovering the secrets of time travel. Only two actors play a variety of different characters and it is performed without any props or set pieces; everything is mimed. An on-stage musician accompanies the action.
Writer and director Mr Behrens said: "The locations are done through mime. And there is miming of guns and swords. It's a big epic story told in a stripped back way."
Show details
● Jess Robinson – The Rise of Mighty Voice; Pleasance Dome; August 14-27
● Debra Tammer – Mancunian Rhapsody; C cubed; August 14-29
● Ben Behrens - Captain Morgan 1: The Sands of Time and Captain Morgan 2: The Sea of Souls; Pleasance Dome; August 14-31
Best of the rest
● Alex Edelman (stand-up) – New Yorker and winner of 2014's Foster's Comedy Award for Best Newcomer; Pleasance Courtyard; August 14-25
● Candy Gigi (absurdist comedian) - Chicken Soup, described as "the most demented Jewish Friday night dinner at the whole festival"; Heroes @ The Hive; August 14-31
● Michelle De Swarte (stand-up) – Jewish Cockney Caribbean Female; Laughing Horse @ The Cellar Monkey; August 14-30
● Mark Maier (stand up) – Schmoozeworthy "Mark Maier unveils the quirkiness of Jewish life from family feuds to our obsession with food"; Canon's Gait; August 19-30
● Daniel Cainer (songwriter) – 21st Century Jew, "Cainer explores the challenges and contradictions of being Jewish in 21st century Britain"; Underbelly Cowgate; August 10-30

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