Posts

Review: The 2000 Year Old Man at JW3

Taken from the famous 1960s recordings by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, this specially commissioned adaptation is a live re-creation of material from The 2000 Year Old Man sketches, in which an interviewer questions a man who claims to be 2000 years old and shares his memories and opinions on the history of civilisation, in a broad Yiddish accent.

BLAKE_EZRA_2000_YEAR_OLD_MAN012

The hour-long show is funny and engaging, and very much a celebration of a simpler time for comedy.  There are decent performances from both sides, with Chris Neill’s Interviewer nicely understated to balance the larger-than-life 2000 year old man, played by Kerry Shale, enthusiastically channeling Mel Brooks.

The energetic performances go some way to bringing a modern feel to the work, it is pacy and they have made the most of the opportunity to physicalise what is essentially a verbal exchange, but for the most part the material itself feels, unsurprisingly, dated. There is very little subtlety at play and I think modern audiences expect to find layers in comedy which are simply missing from the broad stereotyping and sex gags we are presented with here. It’s funny, sure, but all just a bit one-note.

In putting the piece together, Kerry Shale has selected moments from the original recordings to create a cohesive whole. I’m sure this was quite an undertaking, and the team have done a great job of constructing the show so you can very rarely see the ‘joins’. There are a few moments which are laced with satire and this is where the work felt fresh and relevant, and got the biggest laughs of the night.

I went into the show with no knowledge of the original sketches, and I’m sure fans of Brooks and Reiner would appreciate this homage in a way that I, in my ignorance, am unable to. At an hour, it’s the right length and is a fun, lighthearted show that entertains and does provide several laughs, just not side-splitting ones. It’s a show which works well in the JW3 hall, a fantastic performance space, and I hope it will find an appreciative audience who are looking for good, old-fashioned gags.

The 2000 Year Old Man runs at JW3 until March 22nd.

Review: Making Stalin Laugh @ JW3

You’re probably familiar with David Schneider from his work on The Day Today and I’m Alan Partridge. At the very least, you’ve almost certainly stumbled upon his prolific Twitter presence – short, snappy laughs often accompanied by amusingly-Photoshopped images. However, like me, you probably weren’t aware that before becoming an actor, writer, director and power-Tweeter, he researched a doctorate in Yiddish Drama at Oxford.

During his studies, he came across the intriguing GOSET – the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre. The company’s stars, stories and stage productions kept cropping up, and their influence on Russian life, Yiddish culture and the arts became hard for Schneider to resist.

MakingStalinLaugh

During its heyday in the 1920-30s, the GOSET’s charismatic artistic director Solomon Mikhoels was world-renowned, collaborating with Chagall and praised by Shostakovich. By the mid-1930s, the company went from being celebrated and adored to being accused of counter-revolutionary acts, to the point that a bad review could literally be a death sentence.

Making Stalin Laugh, commissioned by West Hampstead’s impressive JW3 cultural centre, is not a classic wartime tale of ordinary people triumphing over adversity in the face of terror. Schneider has found in the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre a unique story that definitely needs sharing.

The group of talented, culturally important celebrities struggled to ensure that “the show must go on” in spite of defection, the Second World War, purges and post-war anti-Jewish executions.

Schneider focuses specifically on his knowledge of Yiddish culture, rather than ‘Jewish life’, and flexes his joke writing muscles throughout the second half with some excellent stand-out one-liners. As political tension grows and the world around the theatre becomes unpredictable and deadly, the cast deliver Schneider’s short, snappy tweetable pun-style laughs perfectly.

Darrell D’Silva is well-cast as egocentric, promiscuous genius Mikhoels. The rest of the cast work wonderfully together, sharing vodka-soaked highs and lows in each other’s arms.

Beverly Klein offers excellent comic delivery as witty seasoned actress Esther, but D’Silva’s towering Brian Blessed-esque grandeur and self-referential Topol/Tevye-style egotism overshadows any hints of stand-out performances or sub-plots. Tangled romances and vague mentions of back-stories are left undeveloped to make way for the caricature of Mikhoels. This may be an honest interpretation of life in a theatre company alongside such a personality – arrogance, affairs and all – but it left gaps where the audience needed to develop sympathy and understanding.

The political backdrop is, aside from a couple brief moments or scenes, spoken about rather than performed or experienced. Whilst the focus remains, rightly, on the lives and work of the GOSET, I found it hard to feel concerned about anything the characters claimed to be going through because I didn’t go through it with them.

The GOSET’s story has all the ingredients of an engaging and captivating script – fame, ego, scandal, sex and spies – but ‘Making Stalin Laugh’ fails to provide the audience with quite enough character depth for us to feel as sad as we should when faced with loss and, essentially, the end of Yiddish culture in Europe.

Making Stalin Laugh runs at JW3 until 9th July. Full details and tickets here.

False alarm as JW3 suspect package closes Finchley Road

[updated 6.45pm]

A suspect package that caused Finchley Road to close this morning turned out to contain t-shirts and flyers.

Mitzvah Day, an organization based at JW3, the Jewish community centre on Finchley Road, received a large package this morning, which it deemed suspect. Police cordoned off a large section of Finchley Road from Blackburn Road to Frognal Lane.

Road closure - photo via @stephenbudd

Road closure – photo via @stephenbudd

Traffic was forced onto Fortune Green Road and West End Lane, causing jams in the area.

With Lymington Road closed from West End Lane to Finchley Road, it became apparent that JW3 was the focus of police attention. An hour later, and CST – a charity that helps Jewish organisations deal with security and antisemitism – tweeted that it was confirmed as a false alarm and the police cordon was being lifted.

Police had carried out a controlled explosion, which was when it transpired that the package was in fact promotional material, including t-shirts, that Mitzvah Day had ordered.

The Zest test

Zest_featured

Zest at JW3 has garnered positive reviews from all quarters, but had yet to be put to the stringent test of #whampreview. Last Thursday, six of us squeezed into the packed restaurant in the lower ground floor of Finchley Road’s enormous new Jewish cultural centre to deliver the only verdict that really matters.

Booking is essential (note that Zest is closed Friday evenings and all day Saturday) and a glance at the appetising menu shows why. Mezze dishes are the obvious way to open, and we merrily tucked into pimped up hummus (£5), heritage carrots (£4.50), some cheese-stuffed peppers (£5), a really delicious pickled aubergine dish (£5) that I tried and failed to keep down my end of the table, a top-notch tomato salad (£4) and labneh – a strained yoghurt dish (£4.50).

Zest_menu

Main courses are not cheap – the whole restaurant isn’t cheap – but the quality of the entirely kosher food is outstanding. My boned-out sea bass with currants, lemon yoghurt, cherry tomatoes and almonds was stuffed with mejadra (a mildly-spiced lentil and rice mix) (£19). It was superb, perfectly cooked and a wonderful combination of flavours that I’d never had before.

Zest_seabass

The Israeli Pinotage that four of us were drinking was good value by the bottle (£18). The wine list is very limited, and the per-glass price and the bottle price don’t match up for reds or whites, so plan ahead – you may find glasses are better value.

Unfortunately (and we weren’t the only ones to politely complain that night), the service was incredibly slow. Although our friendly waiter Luis took our order promptly, it was a long a time before any food appeared – even the bread and olives, let alone our drinks. In fact, the kitchen seemed to be so backed up that we were given dessert menus while we were still eating our mains.

This is uncivilised at the best of times, but when you’re paying fairly high-end prices it’s really not what you expect. It’s perhaps indicative of Zest’s biggest problem in attracting customers who are there purely for the quality of food and not because it’s a kosher restaurant. The bill came to £43 a head, but the vibe is more cafeteria than restaurant – the newspaper-style menus, the cluttered tables and the almost uncomfortable chairs all contribute to this.

But then came the desserts and all was forgiven.

There are four desserts, we tried all of them and they were all wonderful. I had the malabi (£6.50) – a sort of pannacotta topped with rhubarb that has probably gone straight to the top of the West Hampstead pudding league.

Zest_malabi

Malabi

Zest is an excellent addition to West Hampstead dining. Whether the atmosphere is conducive to the kinds of special occasion meals that the prices suggest will be a matter of personal taste. I think I’d go back for mezze and dessert and a glass of wine. And there’s always the less formal café, which has similarly enticing food.

Now over to the rest of this month’s whampreviewers:

Emily: The mezze selection was interesting, with the purple heritage carrots throwing in elements of Heston as the dish appeared to be beetroot. The addition of anchovies and egg to the hummus gave a standard dish an interesting twist. The fish burger (£15.50) was very tasty and I particularly liked the pickles – red cabbage on a fish burger works incredibly well.

Fishburger

My highlight was the wine and the rugelach dessert. Not being a bread and butter pudding fan I was nervous about ordering, but it was possibly my favourite part of the meal. A lovely flavour, but not so heavy to bring on a pudding coma. All in all, pleasant service, allbeit a bit slow at the start and too rapid at the end, tasty food and a lovely ambience. Clean loos (always important) and the prices were what I expected for that location.

Rugelach

Rugelach

Adrian: I can’t recall ever being given a dessert menu between mouthfuls of my main course, nor having to pay before I’ve finished my meal. But our Portuguese waiter was charming and largely covered gaping chasms in the service/production process that should have been ironed out by now. Still, the double-heighted, concrete-laden construction of Zest’s JW3 home offset the specially-commissioned, colourful crockery wonderfully. If you’re going to sit around for a while waiting for your food, it’s nice to have good side plates to fidget with.

When our starters did arrive, they were worth the wait – tasty mezze straight from an Ottolenghi photo shoot – fresh, zingy and accompanied by excellent freshly-baked bread. My main course of sardines wrapped in vine leaves (£16.50) was okay, if a little pricey, lacking a touch of refinement in process that wasn’t made up for in taste. The soggy slab of once-toasted bread underneath did nothing for its cause. On reflection, I should have had the fish burger – the mouthful I stole was incredible.

Sardines

Thankfully, dessert – a bread-and-butter pudding made from rugelach, a rolled pastry filled with cinnamon and poppy seeds and resplendent with poached pears and pistachio crumbs – was unctuous and comforting with bursts of tart cranberries setting it off a treat (£8).

I’d probably go back – not just for the surprisingly good wine – but would likely choose the café rather than the restaurant, which seemed to offer the same mezze and decadent desserts without the expensive (slow) service.

Debbie: How to choose? There was so much on this menu that looked enticing – luckily being a party of six we could order pretty much all of the mezze plates without appearing too greedy. Highlights for me were the Mixed Heritage Carrots, beautifully glazed purple carrots mixed with feta, and a wonderfully creamy hummus. The mains were equally intriguing, the sardines wrapped in vine leaves proved to be an excellent combination and were served on two slices on French toast which was perfect for soaking up a delicious green chilli salsa that delivered quite the kick. It may not have been the most obvious combination of ingredients but it worked brilliantly.

Dessert was the final culinary revelation of the evening, a very more-ish sticky date pudding with a fig compote (£7.50) that was just the right amount of sticky without being heavy and packed with flavour. My only complaint would be the overly long wait we had for our food at the beginning of the evening but with very affable staff and such excellent food (and company of course) this did nothing to spoil a highly enjoyable evening.

Sticky date pudding

Tom: With its “posh canteen” feel and lively atmosphere, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Zest’s food and wine. We had to wait a while for drinks, but the Rioja was good and the Israeli Pinotage excellent; a wine of real depth and character.

Mezze dishes were light, with fresh ingredients and subtle flavours. A decent start. My main dish was fascinating. Black tahini glazed cod, Swiss chard and harissa lentils, with brik noodles, all resting in a mushroom and truffle broth. At £21.50 I was keen to see if it delivered, and it most certainly did. I’m not even sure I totally understood the dish; a little awkward to eat, juggling a soup spoon with knife and fork, which were fiddly to use in the deep (but very attractive) bowl. But the ingredients, cooking, tastes and textures were sublime! Delicate yet bold, with gently-done chard, perfectly cooked cod, and spoonfuls of a magnificent broth with the noodles and lentils…so much to appreciate, yet it all married together so well.

Cod

Citrus and white chocolate cheesecake, with marinated sharon fruit and almonds (£7) was initially impressive for its generous size, then more so for being quite delicious. I’d have liked a slightly firmer, colder topping, but that’s a minor quibble about a lovely dessert.

Cheesecake

Nicky: The food at Zest all looks very attractively thrown together, on colourful glazed bowls and plates, but don’t be fooled by its casual appearance. When you eat these dishes it becomes clear that a very skilled team has put them together, and every component is there for a reason.

Even deceptively simple-sounding dishes like the fish burger are an exciting mixture of flavours and textures: the crisp and juicy fried fish, the piquant red cabbage relish and soft glazed brioche bun were the perfect combination. I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I carried on eating it even when I felt pleasantly full – it was that addictive.

Prices are on the high side, so dinner at Zest would be an occasional treat for me – but I’ll definitely be back soon to sample brunch and the cakes in the café.

Zest at JW3
341-351 Finchley Road
London NW3 6ET
t: 020 7433 8955
w: http://www.zestatjw3.co.uk/
e: /ku.o1561023786c.3wj1561023786tatse1561023786z@ofn1561023786i1561023786

NW6 Film Club is back!

December 8th 5.30pm – Blue is the Warmest Colour – JW3

by Nathan Williams

After a slightly extended break (sorry about that!), the film club returns with a special event: an epic romance that’s received rave reviews at a stunning new venue.

The film is Blue Is the Warmest Colour – the story of a passionate affair between two women based on a graphic novel. The film is controversial, both because of its explicit nature (one sex scene reportedly took 10 days to shoot) and because the author of the original novel disowned it as a straight person’s fantasy. Others have been much kinder. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and has been getting great reviews.

It’s not often that The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph agree on something but both have given this film 5 stars.

It’s been called “an extraordinary, prolonged popping-candy explosion of pleasure” (Telegraph) and “a film of extraordinary richness and emotional complexity” (Independent). But what will NW6 make of it?

We’re seeing the movie at the neigbourhood’s latest addition to an already stellar collection of cinemas: JW3.

This new Jewish Community centre has a luxury 60 seat cinema that shows a wide variety of films. It also has a cafe/bar where we’ll gather after the film to discuss the movie and enjoy a drink or food.

The film is at 5.30pm on Sunday December 8th. It’s three hours long, so you definitely get your money’s worth – but as it should starting at 5.30 prompt there will be plenty of time to chat afterwards.

We’ll meet around 5pm in the cafe and we recommend you book your cinema ticket in advance as we’ve no idea how popular it will be. There’s a special event page here.

We’ll have a reserved block so, if you book by phone, mention the film club if you want to sit with the rest of us (you don’t have to!)

As usual, follow Mark’s @NxNW6 twitter account and the #nw6filmclub hashtag for the latest and if you can, drop us a tweet to let us know you’re coming.

Hopefully see you there,

Nathan, Mark and Jonathan

Connecting parents-to-be at JW3

by Alex Kohansky

I have never appreciated my local community more than during the few months following the birth of my first baby. At a time when it’s a struggle to leave the house, and often the biggest adventure of the day is a walk down the road, it really matters where you live, and who lives near you.

My husband and I had met eight other couples at antenatal classes – we all lived locally, our babies arrived within a few weeks of each other and, as our worlds were completely changing, we connected.

While this support network was invaluable (as well as a lot of fun), we were pretty much all in agreement about the shortcomings of the antenatal course we had taken. We felt we weren’t well prepared for all the different possibilities of labour and birth or how to look after a newborn, and some of us thought we hadn’t learnt anything that we didn’t already know. And it wasn’t just us; we all knew people who’d had similar experiences with other antenatal courses.

So last year I decided to go on a mission to create a course with content as valuable as the friendships made. I hunted down the most popular antenatal experts in North London and we put together classes that gave people the information they really needed in a non-judgemental, unbiased and engaging way, without forgetting one of the main reasons they choose to attend – to meet other people.

We started running our course in Highgate and Muswell Hill and are now very excited to be expanding to my home-turf, West Hampstead, as we’ve been chosen by JW3 to provide their signature antenatal course.

Unlike most other antenatal courses, ours includes baby first aid training. We also include an indulgent afternoon tea for the girls (on a date after the course has finished), a beer for the boys (while the girls are learning about breastfeeding), and a reunion once all the babies have joined the party!

In addition, women signed up to our antenatal course receive free monthly pregnancy yoga classes with West Hampstead’s number one pregnancy yoga instructor, Bec Minor.

This Sunday we’ll be at JW3’s Baby Fair (24th November, 10am-4pm). So if you’re interested in what we do, have a look out for Bump and Baby Club and come and say hi! Otherwise, you can find us at bumpandbabyclub.com.

Sponsored post

JW3 Cinema

JW3 cinema: comfortable and eclectic

As keen readers of this website, you will have of course know about JW3, the brand spanking new Jewish community centre that has opened on the corner of Finchley Road and Lymington Road. But had you caught up yet with the fact that it has its very own cinema? Clearly, I had to investigate.

The JW3 centre officially opened late last month, and cost a reported £50m. It is aiming to become a cultural hub for north-west London and beyond. The facilities are impressive: a large hall with the capacity to hold concerts, theatre shows, weddings and bar mitzvahs and a kosher restaurant. They also include a 60-seat screening room which hosts both recent cinema releases as well as Jewish film festivals.

Keen to check out the centre, we went to see Woody Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine, last Saturday night. The experience was excellent, akin to a private screening room (think great comfort and relaxed atmosphere). We booked ahead (advisable) and our seats were unreserved, so my advice would be to get there early. Tickets were priced at £12 (equivalent to the multiplex and notably cheaper than the Everyman), and there are no pre-film trailers or advertisements.

If you are thinking of heading down and, based on my experience, you really should, it’s worth noting that the JW3 cinema will offer an eclectic programme. It won’t necessarily screen the latest blockbusters so check its website as well as the NxNW6 film listings on these pages to check out what’s on when. There are regular slots for “Golden Oldies”, family films, and all manner of other film delights, such as the Misogynists Film Club (don’t worry, it’s “a feminist celebration of the terrible portrayal of women in cinema”), and even some Israeli TV.

With six cinemas all within walking distance of West End Lane [Ed: you walk faster than most people!], we were already spoiled for choice. With the addition of this new jewel, we now have an embarrassment of riches. Let me know what you think.

Fitness classes at JW3

I went to an open day at JW3, the new Jewish community centre on the corner of Finchley Road and Lymington Road, to check out its health and fitness offering. Various classes will take place in the pleasantly light and airy dance studio, which was all set up for a yoga class as I put my head in. For yoga fans there’s a range of different disciplines and levels. Pilates and Cardio Pilates are also on the schedule.

The focus isn’t all on relaxation and serenity. The London Krav Maga school will teach classes in this brutal self-defence technique, developed and practised by the Israeli army. There are also Krav Fit classes (concentrating on fitness rather than combat) and women-only classes.

If you don’t fancy yoga poses or fighting off simulated attacks, there’s always good ol’ Zumba. The “original dance-fitness party” will be happening twice a week until the end of the year.

Just five minutes away from West End Lane, the fitness classes at JW3 are a great addition to the area. The centre has been explicit in saying that people from all faiths (or no faiths presumably) are welcome. More details on all these classes and more on the website.

JW3 centre nears completion

Those of you living up around the Lymington Road/Finchley Road end of West Hampstead will be all too aware of the enormous construction project that’s been taking place on that junction.

The 35,000 sq ft complex is going to house JW3 – a Jewish cultural centre. Why JW3? Well, if you hadn’t worked it out then this video explains it so clearly that a tiny child would grasp it. The opening sequence also implies that it’s in Glasgow. But these jibes aside, it’s a good introduction into what this landmark buidling will bring to London’s Jewish community.