There are some shows that are stick in the mind for years after they have been and gone, and not always for the best of reasons. The original London production of Imagine This was memorable to this reviewer for two things. First, the use of wooden swords clashing. Except wooden swords do not clash, because they cannot clash, so it was more ‘clop, clop’ rather than ‘clink, clink’. Secondly, a Christian character was singing something poignant and reflective, but doing so whilst being ‘crucified’, which only made me think of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Not that this updated version was completely devoid of wooden weapons, but at least they were used infinitely more convincingly, and I waited for a crucifixion song that mercifully never
A good fifteen minutes, or thereabouts, has been cut from that production for this Union Theatre run, and the show is almost unrecognisable from nine years ago in this invigorating revival. Overall, it seems to work better in this smaller performance space than it did over at the New London Theatre, but the unamplified vocals occasionally fail, particularly in certain solo numbers, to soar above the music. It was not as if the small band was playing at an ear-splitting volume – but either way, it is a pity some of the lyrics proved difficult to decipher.
A more Jewish sound to a play set in the Warsaw Ghetto has been established, or rather re-established, having appeared in the 2007 Theatre Royal Plymouth production but for some reason lost in the London transfer. Kevan Allen’s choreography in this production is first-rate. It’s sometimes uncomfortable to witness, but I hasten to add that this is within the context of the show. It’s a surprise, having seen so many on-stage skirmishes, that no separate fight director is listed amongst the creatives. Let’s just say this show isn’t suitable for children.
This production takes its material seriously, with moments of comic relief that were commensurate both with the narrative and the religious convictions of the characters portrayed in Masada, the show’s ‘play within a play’. There wasn’t a huge amount, besides costumes, to distinguish between the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 and Israel in the first century, and so I found myself trying to work out what was going on between certain characters. Perhaps the switching back and forth made things unnecessarily complicated, but ultimately aside from Daniel (Nick Wyschna), there is insufficient character development.
The sparse staging allows the audience to actually do some imagining (‘this’ in Imagine This being civility and freedom for all – think Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech) without having everything spelled out for them. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with noble ambitions and hope. But some of the musical numbers drag on a tad longer than strictly necessary, and I’m not sure whether a tragedy play (that is, Masada) was the most appropriate choice for an impoverished and persecuted audience – that of the Warsaw Ghetto – as a form of escapism. Then again, as Daniel points out, all the Jews are dead by the end of that play, so it’s not like the Third Reich, represented most prominently by Captain Blick (Jonny Muir), should refuse permission for him to stage it.
The stand-out performance came from Lauren James Ray as Rebecca, vocally strong and full of pathos without overdoing it, pitching the emotions of the character in a compelling manner. Individually and collectively, many characters were palpably fearful and upset as the double dilemma they are faced with as Jews in Masada and as Jews in Nazi-occupied territory loomed, making the final scenes intensely moving. The subdued and subtle performances make the treatment of the subject matter tasteful. A determined effort by this production has made a previous West End flop very nearly likeable. Imagine that.
Review by Chris Comaweng
Poland 1942. Where freedom was found through imagination. Where hope and laughter could conquer fear. Where love knew no boundaries.
Imagine This follows a group of actors in the Warsaw Ghetto as they stage a play to inspire hope within their community. However, with rumours of a Final Solution in the air, their play merges with the reality they are trying to escape and a dramatic love story unfolds.
Imagine This is a story about ordinary people – brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers – facing impossible choices and making heroic decisions.
For the first time in nearly a decade, Imagine This returns to London. Don’t miss this exhilarating and passionate musical, full of humour and optimism.
Nick Wyschna as Daniel Warshowsky (Eleazar)
Lauren James Ray as Rebecca Warshowsky (Tamar)
Daniel Noah as Leon (David)
Abbey Addams as Sarah (Naomi)
Gareth Davies as Adolph Warshowsky (Caesar)
Shaun McCourt as Adam (Silva)
Rob Hadden as Otto (Rufus)
Rebecca Ferrin as Lola (Salome)
Richard Dawes as Jan (Aaron)
Robert Wilkes as Izzy (Pompey)
Conor Anderson as Jacob/S.S. Ofcer
Jonny Muir as Captain Blick
Lily de-la- Haye as Hannah Warshowsky
Laurel Dougall as Esther
Albert Linsdell as S.S. Officer/Roman Soldier
Andrew Cannon as S.S. Officer/Roman Soldier
Imagine This plays at The Union Theatre
25th October – 18th November 2017