Pros: Well presented and flows nicely, making the story a joy to follow. Beautifully drawn comics.
Cons: Not many, unless you are not a fan of comic strips being projected onto walls. And of fishballs, of course.
I will admit, coming to see a slideshow of old cartoons ran by the author’s great-grandnephew on a hot summer evening didn’t sound like the greatest prospect at first. However, it was an acclaimed show at Edinburgh last year and I can now come to watch it at quirky BAC. Good. Oh, and being offered Jewish fishballs at the start was definitely going to win my hungry heart over. “Wot? No Fish!”, exclaims writer and performer Danny Braverman, as he introduces his performance with the gently punchy smell of horseradish in the air. And so we learn how about 8 years ago he inherited a secret shoebox from his great uncle Ab Solomons, a humble shoemaker from Dalston. Little did Braverman know that the aged and yellowed collection of cartoons within would open up his own heart as well as a whole new very private window into 60 years of the London Jewish community life.
It all started when Ab Solomon began to draw at the back of the wage packets he used to bring weekly to his newlywed wife Celie in 1926. Horny drawings to begin with, of course, but soon young Ab began to unfold a fascinating and very intimate story of love, jealous sisters and newborn babies. And as the pictures become more sophisticated by the week and as the family expands, London’s East End always remains reassuringly in the background, with its vibrant markets and people filling them.
Ab relentlessly draws for Celie, perhaps to tell her what words cannot say. Whether it’s a love scene or a sarcastic comeback to his wife’s remarks during the week, Ab’s pencil seems always to be moved by endless, genuine adoration for his wife and infinite love for his family. In the face of poverty, disease, war and the persecution of Jews in Europe, Ab finds a way of lifting spirits through his drawings with hilarious faces and affectionate compassion. What this glance back through time does for the audience is to allow us the chance to look back at our own lives and how we respond to the people who really matter to us.
By the time Ab’s story had got to the 1960s and the family had made it to leafy Golders Green, I couldn’t help the feeling that they were, after all, my own family and that I would have wanted to have a great uncle like Ab Solomon and take his little drawings out of a shoebox and let everyone enjoy them. Soon after, we were all sobbing at the grand finale and no one wanted to leave the show without coming to have a closer look at those tiny pieces of art.
Perhaps this show is just a few dozen cartoons projected onto a wall, and perhaps the horseradish had something in it that made me emotional, but Braverman did manage to take the audience through a marvellous emotional journey without ever letting it become too heady. Throughout the show he injects humour and anticipation in the flow yet always remaining subtle and unobtrusive, ultimately allowing his ancestor’s art to shine through.
Author: Danny Braverman
Director: Nick Philipou
Booking Until: 19 July 2014
Box Office: 0207 7223 2223
Booking Link: www.bac.org.uk