It has taken a long time but William Gibson's record-breaking Broadway solo show has finally made it to London. Golda's Balcony is a marvellous example of collaboration at its very best.
Gibson has written a great, multi-layered script with numerous timelines cleverly laid upon each other; Tovah Feldshuh, who has made the part her own, gloriously inhabits the legendary Israeli leader, a fascinating contradictory subject; and director Scott Schwartz brings everything together in an unforgettable 90 minute tour de force.
Standing in front of a wall containing religious imagery and a screen on to which images of statesman and the warplanes are projected, Tovah Feldshuh plays not only Golda Meir but also family and colleagues, statesman and antagonists but never friends. This was not the kind of woman who ever had friends, her interests lying far more in diplomacy and politics than social chitchat.
Simultaneously, the play explores the life of this extraordinary woman and the history of her people and country. The future Israeli Prime Minister was born in Kiev but grew up in Milwaukee before dragging her devoted but henpecked husband Morris to the Holy Land as pioneers a quarter of a century before the State of Israel was established.
Whilst ostensibly observing the dying Premier on the eve of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, in reality, we are delving into her mind. There, we learn much of her autobiography through the use of historical facts but also gentle humour that turns her into a human being rather than merely a subject for study.
This is one tough cookie, willing to desert her husband and infant children in order to serve the needs of that country and more devoted to David Ben Gurion and his cause than to them.
Throughout the play, there is the mystery of what happened at Dimona and the creative team build up the tension skilfully, until a revelation that even looked at in retrospect is still deeply shocking.
In the meantime, we find out about Mrs Meir's personal history in the 1920s, the fight for independence in the 40s and the wars of the 60s and 70s. Each is graphically described and given a much more personal dimension through the anecdotes that she tells.
At the performance under review, the audience seemed to be close to 100% Jewish and inevitably, this comfortably refurbished theatre will be a Jewish stronghold over the next few weeks.
There is however enough to the story and performance to suggest that those who avoid this play because they are not Jewish, will be missing out on a special evening. If nothing else, the playwright, William Gibson is, unlike his star, a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant so there is every reason to encourage visitors from more varied backgrounds.
Philip also reviewed this production in New York in 2004, aftyer which he interviewed Tovah Feldshuh.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher