Bar Mitzvah Boy

Date 9th June 2013
Society Jewish Theatre Group Manchester
Venue Manchester Jewish Museum
Type of Production Drama
Director Fren Horwich


Author: Kevin Proctor

‘Bar Mitzvah Boy’ is a play adaptation based on Jack Rosenthal's award-winning 1976 TV drama of the same name. The plays Director (Fran Horwich) has remarkably adapted the screenplay for the stage as it has not been performed as a stage play before, however, in 1978, Jack Rosenthal teamed up with Broadway composer Jules Styne (Gypsy, Funny Girl) and lyricist Don Black (Billy, Tell Me On A Sunday) to create a musical adaptation; ‘Bar Mitzvah Boy – The Musical’ which ran in London’s west end for 78 performances. But, the JTC are the first to present the play version of Rosenthal’s comedy.

Not that adapting the screenplay was a big enough challenge for Fran, the idea to perform the piece in the Manchester Jewish Museum (an old Shul) added even more complexity. Adapting a Shul into a performance venue naturally lends itself to a set up known as ‘the avenue’ or ‘catwalk’ (when the audience are seated down two sides facing in to a narrow performing area).  Naturally, with the theme of the piece, staging the play in an old synagogue added authenticity and ambiance which worked a treat.

Fran had made the decision to relocate the setting of the play from London to Manchester with references to local areas but had decided to keep the piece set in the 1970’s which was made clear through accurate looking costumes, hairstyles, music, set and props which were all well thought out to keep a consistent ‘look’ and ‘feel’.

It was evident that this piece had been adapted from a screenplay as many of the scenes were short and – for a stage play - the locations jumped back and forth quite erratically, plays like these are difficult enough to stage in full working theatres so unsurprisingly it proved to be quite a strain on the set team as they were required to clear one scene and set the next very quickly, and in full view - but due to the awkward (but lovely) space, the crew were limited to how much could be prepared out of sight. None the less, the changes ran with military procession and while they were working, we were treated to some well selected classic tunes I’d not heard in a while!     

As is not uncommon when youth performers are involved in a cast, the part of the Bar Mitzvah Boy (Eliot) had been double cast and the performances were alternated between two boys, always a tricky situation when an adjudicator or reviewer comes to a performance. Karl Adelman played the part of the Bar Mitzvah Boy / Eliot Green on the performance I attended - and what a relaxed, easy and natural performance he delivered. I was in awe at just how unfazed and genuine he was, as though no one was watching! Karl had us laughing, we cared about him and his troubles, we saw every one of the plays characters through his eyes, a terrific performance and a joy to witness.

Strong supporting roles were on offer from Deborah Nesbitt as Lesley, the elder sister who, although was quite a tough cookie and relentless to show any emotion, demonstrated a loving side at the perfect moment which was touching. Howard Yaffe treated us to the frustrated father (Victor) who is caught up in the whirlwind of caterers, musicians and hair appointments, a natural, believable and witty performance.

Joanne Lazarus played Rita, the Mother, with ease, we saw that she was both stressed and excited for the upcoming family celebrations. And finally, Dean Simons as the awkward son-in-law to be, Harold, who doesn’t seem to have a home to go to! Harold’s physicality, comic delivery and understanding was tremendous, a very humble actor who delivered a creditable interpretation.

This production has proven to be a very ambitious and exciting venture for the JTC. Congratulations on your success and long may we continue to see new and fresh ideas emerge!