Imagine This

Book by Glenn Berenbeim, Music by Shuki Levy, Lyrics by David Goldsmith
New London Theatre
(2008)

Whatever the odds against it, every fan of theatre has to hope that new work by new writers succeeds as otherwise, the stage has no future.

Imagine This ticks all of the boxes, trying to conquer the West End with no big names and tyros littered amongst the credits, on and off stage. When there is a West End theatre to fill every night and its dual subject matter is the Holocaust and the Roman massacre of Jews at Masada, the odds lengthen to National Lottery proportions.

Sadly slim hope is not fulfilled by Imagine This. The show fails to shape up, let alone excel, and the likelihood is that it will go down as one of those disasters quoted by aficionados for a few months until the next one comes along.

The writing is at times so unprepossessing as to recall the ultimate lampoon of this kind of venture, Mel Brooks' Springtime For Hitler. For those with short memories, that was the musical about the Nazis in The Producers which was so bad that it failed to fail.

The underlying book starts with the idea of matching the victims of Masada with those of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. This is a reasonable premise for a novel, as is the use of a theatre company to act out Masada, while they and their compatriots await transportation from the ghetto - we know where.

The book spends far too long bordering on the absolutely tasteless, both with tales of collaboration and love across murderous boundaries but also with unfunny jokes that reinforce racial stereotypes.

The lyrics suffer from a grim determination to find rhymes to end every line, many of which come close to doggerel.

That leaves Shuki Levy's not altogether memorable but sometimes rousing music and choreography from Liam Steel that can be exciting but inexplicably falls over into cliché whenever there is a Roman centurion in sight.

Far too much is put on to the shoulders of Peter Polycarpou, who plays patriarchs in both eras. He does his best, singing and acting as well as he is allowed to by the limited material.

If this show is remembered, it might be for the discovery of Leila Benn Harris, who plays two spunky daughters, willing to succumb to forbidden love but also use their Aryan paramours (Simon Gleeson x 2) in an attempt to save their people. Miss Benn Harris sings beautifully and can act and dance well enough to suggest a bright future.

The worst of this is the lost opportunity cost of this production, which could literally have funded 100 modest but better plays, out of which some really special work would almost inevitably have emerged and incipient careers taken off.

Visit our sponsor 1st 4 London Theatre to book tickets for Imagine This.

Philip Fisher