The Band’s Visit

Reviewer's rating

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police orchestra finds itself stuck by mistake in Beit Hatikva (a fictional ghost town in the Negev desert of Israel) instead of Petach Tikva (a real major city in the same country), where they’re about to give a concert. The bus to the correct destination is leaving only the next morning, so the orchestra members must spend the night in this godforsaken place, where all its inhabitants live only because they have no other choice. The interactions between guests and hosts, locals and outsiders, Arabs and Jews, and strangers in the night, united by music, are gradually explored.

That was the story of the beautiful 2007 film by Israeli writer-director Eran Kolirin, which took the whole world by surprise, and this is the premise of the almost plot-less endearing, intimate musical that celebrates its London premiere after it made a splash on Broadway and collected ten Tony awards a few years ago.

The Donmar Warehouse is a perfect spot for a modest show. It allows for cinematic close-ups and physical proximity that make the audience feel like a part of the theatrical action. Michael Longhurst, the Donmar chief, directs with a gentle touch and sharp precision.

Every character gets its full due, and the performances are splendid. Two imported Israeli superstars shine all the way through (even if the sexual tension between their respective characters, unlike the film’s, is basically non-existent). Alon Moni Aboutboul as a repressed and lonely Tewfiq, head of the orchestra, is impressive and ultimately heartbreaking. Miri Mesika as Dina, a restaurant owner, another lonesome soul is delightful, sparky, and charismatic – so much so, in fact, that one wonders what makes her stay behind in this dump and let life pass her by. Mesika sings with so much emotion and passion, it’s electrifying.

Other standouts in a terrific ensemble are Harel Glazer as a young and confused lad, finding his capacity for love in a roller disco, no less (nice work by designer Soutra Gilmour); This is a performance of well-judged comic flair and deeply touching inner turmoil. Sharif Afifi radiates sex appeal and vulnerability as Haled, the trumpet player (the orchestra members play their instruments gorgeously, some on top of acting); Marc Antolin as a young lost father sings like an angel, and Ashley Margolis, who excelled in the recent production of “Bad Jews”, melts hearts of stone with his rendition of “Answer me”, a hymn of open hearts, love, and compassion that this gem of a musical is all about.