There are not many theatrical productions that begin with the audience being invited to partake of gefilte fish, with a relish concocted of beetroot and horseradish. As the kosher delicacy was passed around, Danny Braverman explained to us that the fish was fried, but that there is a school of thought among aficionados of Jewish cuisine which prefers gefilte fish to be boiled. Danny’s own mother and father belonged to opposing camps in this culinary dispute.
Such was the unlikely but appetising start to an evening that provided a rich feast of entertainment that was funny, poignant and … well … life-affirming. To call it a monologue does not do it justice, since Mr Braverman struck up a great rapport with the audience, who engaged wholeheartedly with the story of his great-uncle, Abraham Solomons, a humble shoe-maker with a wonderful talent as a miniaturist. Beginning in 1926 and continuing until 1982, “Ab” drew and painted, in a style not unlike some of the great newspaper cartoonists of that era, scenes from his daily life, exaggerated to comic effect, and always with a telling caption. What makes these works of art unique is the medium on which they were executed. They were all done on the back of wage packets – those small brown receptacles into which notes and coins were stuffed, in the days when working men received their wages in cash (and it was good old pounds, shillings and pence) at the end of the week. If you are below a certain age, you will never have seen a wage packet, but believe me, they are small!
Ab’s oeuvre, all three thousand of them, came to light years after his death, stored in shoeboxes that were gathering dust in an attic. Mr Braverman inherited them, and was amazed at what a treasure trove he had dug up. They chronicle Ab’s married life with the wife to whom he was devoted, but they also illustrate the life of the Jewish community in London as its centre moved from Whitechapel to Golders Green and beyond. Mr Braverman regales the audience with an array of anecdotes on this theme as he displays a judicious selection of his great-uncle’s works on a large screen for the audience.
I came rather late in this show’s brief London run. It ends on Sunday, so you will have to hurry in order to see it, which I would urge you to do. Fortunately, there is an exhibition of Ab Solomons’ work in the basement of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which will be continuing for a couple more weeks. Admission is free. Having taken his show as far afield as Australia and (oddly) Luxembourg, Danny Braverman will, one hopes, bring it back to London in the not too distant future.