Manchester Jewish Museum launches new season of Jewish Mancunian theatre and comedy

Synagogue SCRATCH sees ‘works in progress’ from up and coming local talent take to the stage of the museum’s grade II listed synagogue

By Kelly Bishop | 28 February 2023

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The relaunch of Manchester’s Jewish Museum was a cultural highlight of 2021, its £6m redevelopment and extension incorporating a new gallery, a vegetarian cafe selling food inspired by Jewish traditional recipes, a shop and a learning studio as well as a complete restoration of its Grade II listed Spanish and Portuguese synagogue.

The 31,000 item strong collection documenting the story of Jewish migration and settlement in Manchester is considered by historians to be of national and international significance. The forward looking museum continues to come up with new ways to lift and celebrate today’s Manchester’s Jewish voices.

Manchester Jewish Museum’s synagogue dates back to 1874. Image: Philip Vile

This spring, Manchester Jewish Museum is launching its inaugural season of Synagogue Scratch – a series of work in progress performances exploring stories of Jewish Manchester. The works are all at different stages of development, so in some cases, audiences will get the chance to act as a sounding board for a script-in-hand world-premiere, while others are fully formed and finessed. 

The three performances announced so far represent the vast breadth of local talent and tell three individual stories in very different ways.

Award-nominated comedy writer Ellie Silver will perform Beth’s Din. Image: Manchester Jewish Museum

The season begins on Sunday 26 March with a work-in-progress stand up comedy performance by Ellie Silver. The show has been written for TV but will be performed live in this instance. Beth’s Din “tells the story of Manchester’s first ever female rabbi and her struggle for acceptance from a notoriously traditional synagogue congregation [who are] reluctant to welcome her with open arms”. Ellie Silver has been nominated for a number of awards including the 2022 Funny Women Comedy Writing Award and the 2020 Channel 4 Writing for Television Award.

On Sunday 2 April, audiences will be treated to the play We Wish You Long Life by Amy Lever. Amy is a Mancunian Jewish actor and writer, passionate about telling northern contemporary stories with a Jewish influence. She is a proponent of “verbatim theatre” in which first hand testimonies and interview responses are incorporated into dramatised scripts. We Wish You Long Life was originally performed as part of a short play festival, One Play One Day, produced by the Reload Theatre Company. Six short plays were written, rehearsed and performed to a live audience, all within 24 hours. It has now been developed as a longer piece of theatre, exploring the lives of a Jewish-Irish Catholic family and the shared cultural history of the two communities.

We Wish You Long Life tells the story of an Jewish-Irish Catholic family. Image: Reload Theatre Company

Finally, on Sunday 2 April, is A Manchester Girlhood, a story deeply rooted in the family history of multi-award-winning playwright, Julia Pascal. Julia grew up in the north of England and was the first woman director at the National Theatre on the South Bank with her stage adaptation of Dorothy Parker’s prose and poetry. The focus of her work is on exploring untold Jewish stories, particularly those of women. A Manchester Girlhood tells the story of three sisters, who grew up as the Jewish Mancunian daughters of those who fled Romanian antisemitism. The play gives a moving vision of what it was like to struggle for a good education, love and identity as Jews who wanted free lives as women.

Manchester Jewish Museum will host the series Synagogue Scratch. Image: Joel Chester Fildes

Manchester Jewish Museum’s Creative Producer, Demi Franks, who worked on developing this season of events says, “We are really excited to launch our inaugural ‘Synagogue Scratch’ season this Spring, celebrating local artists and supporting the development of new work-in-progress.  This season’s theme ‘Jewish Manchester,’ particularly excites me as I’m really proud to be providing a platform and a one-of-kind space for local emerging artists to share and explore their work in this unique way here at MJM. We are really looking forward to inviting our diverse audiences to not only see this exciting work but meet, chat and help the artists to continue to evolve and develop their projects.”

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