Perth Festival review: Danny Braverman, Wot? No Fish!! ·
Studio Underground, February 20 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·
The stories of the great ones are carved in stone.
Around them teem millions of people with lives that pass unknown, their stories unnoticed and then forgotten – evidence of their joys and sorrows, their increase and decrease, the circumstances of their coming and their going reduced to a few dusty lines in government files, a photograph album soon to be discarded or fading from living memory.
Or left, forgotten, in a shoebox under a bed.
Which is where the English storyteller Danny Braverman and his mother found a treasure-trove of common life – and a long, ordinary love affair told in an extraordinary way – as they were clearing out her deceased cousin’s flat in Chelsea.
Since 1926 when he married his beautiful next-door neighbour Celie, Braverman’s great-uncle Ab Solomon had taken home his payslip from the shoe factory where he worked and given it to his wife with the housekeeping inside and a simple drawing or a painting on the outside.
When he retired he kept giving her an envelope with a painting on it every week until she died in 1982.
It’s the history of their marriage, from their ardent newlyweddedness through to ailing old age.
History – depression, wars, austerity, the exodus of the middle-class from old cities to new, milquetoast suburbia – comes and goes; Abe and Celie suffer hardships and personal tragedies, feel their ardour cool and, sometimes, distances grow, but Abe’s little sketches tells the story of an enduring love that recalls John Donne’s great metaphor, “If they be two, they are two so, as stiff twin compasses are two”.
Braverman tells Ab and Celie’s story in the simplest possible way, projecting a selection of these little doodles on a screen while commentating – and often speculating – about what’s happening in them.
He has a broad, knowing East-End Jewishness that disarms you immediately. If you enjoy words starting with schm… you’ll have a ball; if you love fishballs dipped in chrain (the traditional relish made from beetroot and horseradish that Braverman hands around as an icebreaker) you will be with him from the get-go.
As you should be, whatever your taste in dialects and finger-food, because the story of Ab and Celie that he tells with good humour, taste and emotional precision is a window into the world of real people that will survive, in our common humanity, when all the statues have crumbled and there’s nothing left of the great ones they memorialise but names.
Pictured top: Danny Braverman diving deep into his family history. Photo: Tony Lewis.