The Melting Pot

Israel Zangwill

Bitter Pill

Finborough Theatre, Earl's Court

From 03 December 2017 to 19 December 2017

Review by Philip Fisher

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The Finborough has a long and distinguished reputation for the rediscovery of lost masterpieces. Its December pairing are both delectable, suggesting that 1908 was a bumper year for the stage.

Where Jerome K Jerome’s The Passing of the Third Floor Back is a comedy with serious philosophical undertones, The Melting Pot can be light-hearted but was primarily written to air Israel Zangwill’s controversial opinions about the crucible that was the United States in the early years of the 20th century.

The opening scenes take place in the Quixano (pronounced kee-ah-no) family home, ostensibly ruled over by Peter Marinka as patriarch Mendel, although his ancient Yiddish-speaking mother protects tradition at every turn, requiring strict religious observance on pain of excommunication.

This frustrates her grandson and Mendel’s nephew David played by Stefan Cennydd but also the Catholic servant, Katrina McKeever’s Kathleen, whose knowledge of Jewish obligations soon almost matches those of the family.

The focus for the evening soon turns to David, who just happens to be a musical genius, not only adept on the violin but composing an American symphony that seems likely to make his name, not to mention a fortune.

Given his idealistic views about America, socialism and his native Russia, a country that he left after the slaughter of both parents and several siblings in a pogrom, this is just as well.

In the early scenes, David discovers another reason to boost the coffers in the attractive person of Vera Revendal, also Russian but part of the Christian aristocracy that he very reasonably abhors.

However, Whoopie van Raam’s character is a kindred spirit, devoting her time to helping immigrants through a charity known as The Settlement.

Love is very much in the air, despite the attentions of an odious, adoring millionaire, Alexander Gatehouse taking the role of Quincy Davenport, who will happily chuck up the current wife if only Vera will deign to replace her.

In the scenes prior to the interval of this 110-minute production, the impression that audience members will get is of a slightly kooky love story featuring a comic pairing who need to overcome their own and their families’ religious scruples if they are to find mutual happiness.

However, the appearance of a second patriarch, Vera’s dastardly baronial father played in a nice, ironic bit of doubling by Peter Marinka, darkens the atmosphere considerably.

For David, he is the epitome of Russian torture in what the youngster now believes, along with the playwright, given the subtitle, should be “The Great American Drama”.

The remainder of the play is devoted to the promotion of David’s Symphony by a highly Germanic conductor, Hayward B Morse as Herr Papelmeister, the tempestuous progress of the young peoples’ progression towards an eternity together and several highly worthy speeches promoting the Great American Dream and contrasting it with the terrors of the old country.

The Melting Pot is a wonderful discovery that has not been seen in London for 80 years and receives a gripping revival in the sure hands of Max Elton, in which the leading actors all acquit themselves capably, particularly Whoopie van Raam, Stefan Cennydd and Peter Marinka—twice over.

As so often with these Finborough finds, not only should the producers be looking for a transfer but also trawling through the Zangwill canon for any other equally rewarding gems.