Danny Braverman performs this unique one-man show, sharing the true story of his great uncle Ab, who drew over 3000 pictures for his wife Celie on the back of his wage packets throughout their marriage, from the 1920s into the 80s. Using a projector and some introductory fish balls, Braverman shares with audiences these artworks and other artefacts, revealing the fascinating story of Ab and Celie’s lives. In doing so, he draws out the flavours of Jewish cultural heritage, and in particular the changes that were occurring for Jews in London’s East End, revealing the strange and wonderful way in which the past continues to live in the present.
Braverman begins by casually strolling onto the stage during the pre-set, establishing a comfortable rapport with the audience. We are invited to share whether we have tried gefilte fish before (quickly establishing that the majority of the audience is Jewish). We are then given a piece of fish to taste, with Braverman easily adopting the role of the host, giving a relaxed participatory feel to the performance. The fish is by no means subsidiary to Ab and Celie’s story, as Braverman rightly speaks of how food is key to Jewish culture, playing a central role at festivals and gatherings – a fitting entry point for his story.
Throughout the performance, Braverman manages to make ‘insider’ comments, while simultaneously providing explanations for the non-Jewish members of the audience, expertly striking a difficult balance that is enabled by his humble charm. He frequently uses Yiddish words to get at the core of his story, for example the word ‘broigus’, meaning an argument, which he initially explains and then continues to drop in. This choice to prefer the Yiddish is a reminder of the way in which the language and traditions of the past carry a weight that goes beyond the initial meaning.
The beauty of this production is that it is storytelling at its essence. Braverman has created a performance that pays service to an amazing story. However, while Braverman is not initially the focus of the show, we learn more about him and his life as he retells Ab’s life. This is a show that is difficult to pin down – part fascinating art history lecture, part friendly chat, part intimate revelation, it is a personal history tale with a huge heart. The most impressive feat of Braverman’s piece is that he manages to capture the Jewish necessity of reliving and remembering the past with an enquiring mind.
Wot! No Fish?? is playing at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre until 16 August. For more information and tickets, see the Southbank Centre website. Photo: bread&circuses.