Travelling Light Review
by London Laura
TRAVELLING LIGHT, WRITTEN BY Nicholas Wright, DIRECTED By Nicholas Hytner
Travelling Light tells the story of the birth of cinema and film production as narrated by successful Hollywood movie mogul Maurice Montgomery in 1936 (played by Paul Jesson). It starts in the early 1900’s when Montgomery, then a twenty-something ambitious journalist called Motl Mendl (Damien Molony), returns to his home after 7 years after hearing about the death of his father, the local photographer. Home was a small Eastern European Jewish Shtetl (Yiddish word meaning small town) and Mendl is planning on visiting his aunt, sorting out his father’s affairs and going back to the city.
He discovers his father had a Lumiere Cinematographe, a camera that could make and show moving film. He spends time making films and attracts the attention of a wealthy local businessman, timber-merchant Jacob Bindel (Anthony Sher). Jacob has had a hard life surviving persecution and has built up his business from nothing, He recognises Motl’s talent and persuades him not to return to the city and offers to finance his films. He sends his house-keeper Anna to help him and the pair fall in love, while learning about the trials and errors of movie making.
This early Director/Producer relationship soon falls apart when filming begins. Jacob starts to interfere, creating focus groups to review Motl’s films and telling him what to film and how to do it. Motl watches in horror as his jolly benefactor turns into a short-tempered bully with his hands firmly on the purse strings. Then something happens that changes his relationship with Anna. Frustrated, Motl escapes to America. Years later, his past comes back to haunt him as he discovers a new acting talent from New York called Nate Dershowitz (also played by Damien Molony with a pitch perfect Brooklyn accent).
I’ve seen the play three times. First time was at the end of February, just after I started watching Being Human Season 4, then in May after the play had been on tour in England, and a few days before it ended in June. Each night was different. The first time, I was so absorbed by the play and Damien, whose portrayals of Motl Mendl/Nate Dershowitz were so different from Hal, that I forgot about Being Human and just got swept up in the magic of the story telling. Damien perfectly captured Motl’s passion, commitment and talent for making movies, but also his frustrations, ruthlessness and selfishness. He claims to love Anna, yet he abandons her when she is most venerable and runs away to America with Jacobs’ money and all his creative stories and ideas, using them to make his movie career. Damien is also very good at putting on the tears when required. I had a lump in my throat when he wept when talking to Anna about his father and when he cried outside his Aunt’s door, before leaving her forever without saying goodbye.
The rest of the cast were excellent. All likable characters. Lauren O’Neil was wonderful as Anna, intelligent, feisty and practical. It’s through her that Motl discovers how to cut and splice film and how to edit and do close-ups. She also looked so beautiful as Anna the movie star and there is amazing chemistry between her and Damien. Sir Antony Sher was excellent. He was criticised in some reviews as being over the top caricature and bully, but I have met characters like Jacob Bindel, excentric, spirited survivors. The powerful, wealthy timber-merchant is the perfect movie maker as he has plenty of stories to tell – and Sher makes him a good story-teller and a man who has artistic vision and perfect comic-timing.
It was obvious that the whole cast had had all gelled together, especially in the last 2 shows, with incredible performances from all. The scenes of Jacob’s focus group and the first part of Act 2, where all the village were involved in Motl’s film were laugh-out-loud funny. Not only due to the play, but the interaction between all the characters. I loved Ida & Rivka Bindel, Jacob’s stoic wife and spoilt daughter (played by Abigail Mckern and Alexis Zegerman) and special mention must go to Karl Theobald who played Itzak, Jacob’s son-in-law and droll accountant (I recognised him from two of my favorite comedies Twenty Twelve and Green Wing) and Sue Kelvin as Motl’s all-knowing & all seeing Aunt Tsippa. As well as being the lynch pin between Motl and the village, she also had the “envious” task of having to slap Damien’s backside almost every night for five months!
The production was amazing too, the monochrome silent films with haunting music that were shown on a huge backdrop above the wooden roofs of the Shtetl, and the detail in Aunt Tsippa’s kitchen and living room, and Motl’s workshop and bedroom. All in all, I found it a wonderful, play with an amazing charismatic cast, great humour and a story that is both a affectionate homage to the early movie pioneers and to European Jewish village life that was tragically destroyed forever in the 20th Century.
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