Alex Galbinski on a new show honouring Freddie Mercury
A documentary about Manchester Jews has provided the inspiration for a musical comedy about a religious Jewish woman with a secret passion for Freddie Mercury songs.
Actress, writer and stand-up comedienne Debra Tammer wrote Mancunian Rhapsody – which she will take up to the Edinburgh Festival – after watching ITV’s Strictly Kosher a few years ago.
“I was immediately enthralled by the main character, an eccentric well-meaning woman called Bernadette Clark. Although the documentary was meant to inform people of the minutiae of Jewish life, I felt the comedy was unmistakeable,” Tammer, 40, explains.
“Being northern and an observant Jew myself, the themes were all too recognisable. I also think that these types of documentaries are so focused on the extremes that a musical parody on the show was more than fitting.”
The musical centres around Rivki Pashinsky (played by Tammer), whose guilty pleasure is the music of Freddie Mercury.
Her son, the nerdy Rabbi Michael (Tommy Burgess), plans to marry the Brooklyn born, alopecia-ridden, lisp-inflicted and overweight Devorah Feigenblum (also played by Tammer), until devastating rumours ruin everybody’s plans. Through parody and popular music, the one-hour show, which is directed by Rachel Creeger, explores the themes of religious identity, forbidden familial and sexual relationships, betrayal and the power of gossip. It makes the audience laugh on many levels, Tammer says. “Changing the lyrics to familiar Queen and other pop songs really makes people laugh as everyone seems to like a clever rhyme,” she says. “But also mixing the modernity of the musical genre with the traditional extremities of Jewish life makes the play original and palatable – so the informative nature of the piece is transmitted in an entertaining way. “The Jewish sense of humour combined with the direct Northern sense of humour also makes for great comedy,” adds Tammer, who hails from Leeds.
Sold out at last year’s Camden Fringe, the comedy will be in preview in London, Leeds and Manchester later this month.
Feedback last year was very positive, says the mother- of-three. “Aside from the fits of laughter, they felt the story had pathos and tragedy and allowed them to think about themes of religious identity, gossip, prejudices, sexuality and the role of the woman within religion and the taboo subject of child abuse,” she explains.
Among other work, Tammer has appeared in her own film, That’s For Me!, a spoof documentary about a wannabe delusional actress that went to the UK Jewish Film Festival, the Montreal Comedy Film Festival and the Israeli International Festival of Arts.
• Mancunian Rhapsody is on at The Hen& Chickens in Highbury at 9.30pm between 22 and 24 June (tickets are available from www.unrestrictedview.co.uk/mancunian-rhapsody) and at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate Village at 7.30pm on Tuesday, 30 June (tickets via www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com/amancunianrhapsody).
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/Mancunian Rhapsody