Fiona Leckerman joins the creator and cast of the hit TV series for lokshen and laughter at JW3
Home is the obvious place for Friday night dinner, unless JW3 makes a better offer. The Jewish community centre offered 75 lucky diners the chance to make Kiddush and eat roast chicken with the cast of the hit Channel 4 series of the same name. Tamsin Greig, Simon Bird, Tom Rosenthal and Friday Night Dinner’s creator and writer Robert Popper ate and chatted to guests in one of London’s most welcoming dining rooms.
Friday Night Dinner follows the life of the Goodman family, modelled on a traditional British sitcom format, where much of the humour is found in the awkward circumstances that befall the hapless family.
Sitting in JW3’s cinema [pre-Shabbat!] to watch two hilarious episodes of the show, Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal, who play brothers Adam and Jonny, could be heard giggling along with the audience confessing how horrible it was watching themselves on the big screen.
The show’s success could be attributed to how much of ourselves we see reflected in the stereotypical characters. As writer Robert Popper admits when we sit next to each other for dinner: “The relationship between Adam and Jonny is very much taken from the relationship I had with my brother growing up.” Popper tells the story of when his brother recently visited the set – a house in Mill Hill that is commandeered for the seven weeks of filming. Popper, who is Jewish, only had to turn his head briefly, inadvertently allowing his brother to play a prank on him by adding sugar to his drink. The siblings’ antics are seen throughout the series and watching Bird and Rosenthal in real life, there is a strong sense of brotherly comradery, although no drinks were spiked during this dinner.
Popper, a quietly spoken but quick-witted man, who has scored hits with The Inbetweeners, The IT Crowd and South Park, and who is currently writing again with Peter Serafinowicz, is keen to tell stories of his family and how they inspired him to write the series. The idea came to him while in the bath and he remembers seeing the series fully formed in his mind. He admits that the influences of his upbringing helped shape the series and although he has seen other Jewish comedies, he had always thought they were overdone.
“I realised quite early on that I couldn’t work out how to make lighting the candles funny,” he says, explaining that the emphasis for him is more on the Jewishness of the central relationships. “I love all those stories about your strange grandma or your dad that doesn’t wear a top.”
Bird, who is quite possibly the most Jewish looking non-Jew jokes that this is his first ever Friday night dinner, adding: “There are two elements to the series; the first is when you go home as a 30-year-old and always revert back to being 12 and the second is that everyone’s dad is weird.”
Tamsin Greig, fresh from completing her run as the lead in the West End musical Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, is looking forward to reprising her role as mother Jackie in the fourth series, due to air in 2016. Greig, a vegetarian who is saved from the cold chicken on set by eating cold Quorn instead, says: “The experience of filming the show is a little bit like Jewish Big Brother, as we are not allowed out the house and all the windows are blacked out, we are kept sane by our competitive games of Boggle and Articulate in the green room.”
Greig also reiterates the theme of the parent-child relationship, “The dad, Martin, regresses when his mother comes in, which is
really lovely to see and just as funny as when Jackie’s mother sends her to her room.”
During the question and answer session, one fan asks about Jackie’s overbearing and passive-aggressive nature, to which Greig in turn asks the woman if she sees herself in Jackie, there is a tender moment where the woman laughs and admits she is eerily similar.
Like all good comedy, Friday Night Dinner works in part as a microcosm of the Jewish family unit and, although largely exaggerated, there are elements of all the characters with whom we can relate or identify – bar Jim, of course, who Greig famously cannot film scenes with without corpsing. Popper and Greig concede that Mark Heap’s talented characterisation of Jim makes them all laugh and that he has the extraordinarily comedic ability to never film any two takes the same.
Praise is heaped on Popper’s funny and fastpaced writing. Greig says: “Robert is very musical, the script is formed of very short sentences that ping back and forward, he can hear the rhythm of it and, when there are five or six people talking, it feels like a five-part harmony.”
In person, the cast are just as entertaining and warm as their characters, which helped to make this particular Friday night dinner a feast full of laughter.