Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • THE DEAD FIDDLER • Sacred and Profane @ New End Theatre • 2006

Collected Stories (Penguin Modern Classics)9k=

This is a play about dybbuks, in Jewish folklore the spirits of dead sinners unable to pass on to their next life who inhabit the bodies of living people into the next world. It is based on a tale by Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904 – 1991), the Polish writer, in Yiddish and in English who emigrated to America in 1935 and is best known for his stories of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before the First World War.

Yentl is a young girl who is left desolate when her betrothed dies just before their marriage. In her weakened state her body is invaded first by the dybbuk of a gypsy fiddler and then by that of a barmaid who became a prostitute.

Director and adapter David Zoob has assembled a cast of actor-musicians to enable him to retell the tale in a performance that interweaves music and theatre. This is not a musical but a play enriched by music. However, its setting in a Jewish shtetl, its Klezmer folk music, dancing villagers, a canopied wedding, a violinist seated on a rooftop and even a character called Tevye cannot help but remind us of the Sholom Aleichem musical Fiddler on the Roof, set in a similar, but Russian, village.

In its mix of characters and moments of festivity it conjures up the same feeling of a vibrant community, but we get little chance to discover much about individuals. The adaptation relies heavily upon narration, divided between the characters but delivered directly to the audience. There is little interaction between the living characters and the action is structured around the struggle between the dybbuks and those who seek to drive them out.

Zoob cleverly presents us with Yentl and the dybbuks that possess her at the same time, sometimes only as voices, sometimes physically present, actor and actress, sometimes girl and dybbuk simultaneously delivering lines, sometimes divided between. It is a device that is very effective.

The gypsy is the strongest role in the play and Ezra Hjalmarsson’s un-British voice gives him an exoticism that marks him out from the villagers but sometimes blurs understanding. This domineering clever rogue is a marvellous role for an actor but Hjalmarsson seems to be holding back and never quite engages with the audience.

Heather Snaith, though perhaps not so physically skilled, is much less restrained as the female dybbuk.

The success of the concept, and indeed of the play, lies in the splendid performance of Lydia Baksh as the possessed Yentl. She manages a stylization that seems perfectly natural; she even manages to pull off a sudden, slightly jokey doubling as ghastly boy lined up as a second choice husband. I want to see more of her.

As her parents, Joanna Foster and Saul Eisenberg have little opportunity to develop their characters or relate to their daughter – among his doubles, Eisenberg has a much more rewarding role as the village beggar, especially in a scene when the male dybbuk lays bare almost every villager’s faults and peccadilloes.

The production does show us these three as a real family, but that is largely because the adaptation tells us things rather than showing them. One needs more human interaction, as in one short scene when two gentiles come to gawp at and doubt the apparent possession, an opportunity that Frank Lazarus and especially Nicholas Karimi clearly relish.

Wai Yin Kwok has kept the setting simple: the village suggested by a wall of shapes suggesting wooden houses with glass panels to allow us to see occasional action behind them and leave the maximum playing space which is sorely needed. Costumes are neat and simple. They are perhaps closer to Chagall’s memory images than the real life photographs of villagers in the programme.

I believe the director’s intention was to try to catch the change that was coming to Easter European Jewish life at this time. I don’t think he succeeds but one great merit of this production is that there is absolutely nothing sentimental about it. It is strong on humour and, despite a plethora of Yiddish expressions and Hebrew words, there is no need to be Jewish to enjoy it.

Howard Loxton © 2006

Did you Know…?
Did you know that this play was adapted from the same Singer story, Yentl and the Yeshiva Boy, that was the inspiration for Barbra Streisand’s film, Yentl (1983)? It was first adapted for the stage by Leah Napolin for the Chelsea Theater in Brooklyn in 1974.


Originally published on R&V on 01-05-06


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Ace News Desk

This site has been designed to provide reports together with news events as they happen when they happen across the world

Dave Plummer Saxophonist

Wedding & Events Saxophonist - Leicestershire and Hampshire


Books, Reviews and bookish thoughts

Creative writing and art by Charlotte Begg

Creative writing and art by Charlotte Begg

Mallory James

Writer - Author - Historian

Act Professional

A How-To Guide for Actors from Someone Who Has No Idea What She's Doing

Iris Theatre

Supporting the next generation of professional theatre practitioners


The site for 'Madcap Mabel' - Mabel Normand


The site for and by adults with ADHD

Scandalous Women

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

The Naptime Author

Anne Clare explores the world of writing, one stolen minute at a time.


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Woman the fuck up

Hear me roar. Writer, mother, actress, maker of beautiful things, witch. Not taking any more shit and neither should you.


Dedicated to Women Pilots of the Solent


illustration, colour, fashion + lifestyle blog UK


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Improbability Archivist

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, Doctor Who,

WCH On This Day

Working Class History anniversaries every day


Yoga classes and aromatherapy products in Andalusia, Spain.

LOIS BRYAN Photography and Digital Art

History And Other Thoughts

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Secret Diary Of PorterGirl

The everyday adventures of the staff & students of Old College


Subject to change.

The Müscleheaded Blog

"Nothing Exceeds Like Superfluous Jejunity "

Women of History

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Jon Danzig's World

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

The pallet Junkie

Hand crafted furniture

Dreaming Reality

If Existence is a dream, let us dream perfection....


Exploring best practice and research in sexual violence. A loud voice in the fight against victim blaming. Written and Managed by Jessica Eaton, Doctoral Researcher in Forensic Psychology

Teagan's Books

Now available: "Murder at the Bijou - Three Ingredients I"

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

The History Woman's Blog

Just another weblog

Art by Jess Miller

sculpture and artwork

Cooking on a Bootstrap

The #1 budget recipe website

surprise saffron

relishing in life's surprises, delighting in food, travel, art

Wish I Were Here

Journeys Through Place and Time

Doron Art

A journey into my world of Painting

Taylor Revert

An anything-and-everything blog from life's number one fan

Random Facts in History

History is complex, massive, and full of strange events and coincidences. Learn with me as I hunt those out and bring them into the light.

Life with an Illness

Sharing my chronic illness journey, while helping others. I spread awareness, love, and positivity along the way!♡

%d bloggers like this: