By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHEN?: Saturday 1 October, runs to 3 December 2022 RUNTIME: 100 minutes (no interval)
Like a downplayed Star Wars, this new musical opens with the following words beamed against the stage’s back wall: ‘Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.’
- Read on for reasons including how this intimate venue is the place to see this heartwarming new musical
Beware of being misled by The Band’s Visit modesty because, although its stories may be small, its themes about the importance of acting with kindness and how different cultures can bring new perspectives on familiar problems are universal.
In the recent past Egypt’s Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra mistakenly buy tickets to isolated Israeli desert town Bet Hatikva instead of their intended city destination of the similarly-sounding Petah Tikvah.
Their Egyptian pronounciation is misheard by their Israeli ticket salesperson and this misunderstanding drives the action of 2 different cultures clashing but ultimately finding some joy in co-operation and learning from each other’s diversity.
In Bet Hatikva the residents sing Waiting as they bemoan the monotony of their lives about to be shaken up by the arrival of the band.
Miri Mesika’s Dina agrees to take members of the band in at her restaurant overnight before they can catch the 1st bus out of town the next morning and she strikes up a friendship with uptight band leader Tewfiq played in suitably buttoned up form by Alon Moni Aboutboul.
The show’s highlight is her number Omar Sharif (watch above) which explains her fascination with everything that Tewfiq stands for and the former dancer’s unexpected embrace of his culture brings out a surprising reaction in a man grieving the loss of his family.
This touching moment is amplified by so many other vignettes: Marc Antolin’s (Little Shop Of Horrors, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre) jobless Itzik has fallen out with his wife who is struggling to look after him, their child and hold down her own job.
Harel Glazer’s Papi gets tongue-tied when out with the girl he loves but bandmate Haled (Sharif Afifi from My Fair Lady at the Coliseum) is able to coach him during the show’s funniest scene at a roller disco which is far more successful than the recent skiing onstage at this venue.
Our favourite song was the celebration of music and how both it and romance are universal languages that are often beautifully intertwined as Itzik’s father-in-law explains how he met and fell in love with his departed wife during an absolutely storming Beat Of Your Heart.
Ashley Margolis’ Telephone Guy waits next to Bet Hatikva’s only public telephone waiting in vain for his girlfriend to call.
The material is elevated here by a brilliant ensemble cast with Peter Polycarpou’s well-meaning Avram bringing life to every scene he is in and Sargon Yelda’s quietly reassuring Simon bringing just what was needed to the family he is lodging with.
But it’s Mesika’s Dina who brings the house down and it is perhaps no surprise that we discover in the programme after the show that she is a multi-award winning Israeli singer and actress who has sold over 200,000 albums internationally because she is an absolute sensation here bringing so much heart to her role that it’s clear that we are falling in love with her as much as the rest of the cast.
The Band’s Visit has been long overdue to London because it was the winner of 10 Tonys in 2018. This is a new production directed by this venue’s artistic director Michael Longhurst (Caroline, Or Change) and we love how members of the band sit on bleachers at the back of the stage and simply play during much of the action.
This is so affecting and heartwarming that we wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t transfer to a bigger West End venue after this Donmar run but do try to see it in this intimate space where its beautiful spell is most easily cast. The Band’s Visit? You won’t ever want it to end.
- Main picture via Facebook courtesy Donmar Warehouse Tickets
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