Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Rustic Tale of Jewish Romance; New "Old" Play Travelling Light Unpacks Its Charms at Newcastle Theatre Royal Next Week. BARBARA HODGSON Sees It in London before Its Tour and Talks to Its Star Antony Sher and Writer Nicholas Wright

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Rustic Tale of Jewish Romance; New "Old" Play Travelling Light Unpacks Its Charms at Newcastle Theatre Royal Next Week. BARBARA HODGSON Sees It in London before Its Tour and Talks to Its Star Antony Sher and Writer Nicholas Wright

Article excerpt

Byline: BARBARAHODGSON

WHEN The Artist sneaked into a cinematic world of computer generation and motion-capture technology and made off with a clutch of BAFTAs and Oscars, it struck a silent blow for a bygone era.

Its calming world of black and white proved a surprise hit in these hyped-up technicolour times: more a surprise and less of a hit perhaps with those early audiences who reportedly walked out of cinemas in Liverpool on realising that the film was, yes, totally silent, so those subtitles weren't going away.

But the vast majority of cinema-goers, who supposedly demand a surround-sound, 3D, fully immersive experience, actually appeared to welcome a return to a golden era.

And now here we have a new play with a distinctly old feel that also recreates film-making's early days.

Nicholas Wright's Travelling Light - which opens at Theatre Royal in Newcastle on Tuesday - is a nostalgic nod to the Jewish immigrant roots of American cinema.

In a setting all sepia-tinted, wooden and rustic, we meet young Motl Mendl in a Eastern European "shtetl" at the dawn of the 20th Century, as he inherits his late father's cinematograph and gradually learns the art of shooting a film, capturing the excitement of the small community and the heart of Anna, the bright spark helper who proves just as quick a learner.

Stage star Antony Sher plays wealthy timber merchant Jacob who bank rolls the whole venture while Motl has his mind on the bigger picture, quite literally, with the aim of taking his new-found expertise to America and it's from there in the 1930s that his older self, now a Hollywood director, tells the story in flashback scenes.

With the play on tour from the National (where Nicholas Hytner directed), Sher's name alone is going to be enough to pull in the crowds at the Theatre Royal but, once they're in there, Wright's story will work its gentle charm.

The author, whose other recent new plays include one about the Duchess of Windsor, has been amazed at the sudden rash of interest in old subjects which, like the proverbial buses, are turning up at once.

And he thinks he knows the reason for it. He says: "My last play had in it the Duchess of Windsor and she's not a very interesting person then suddenly we had Madonna's movie, a play and a TV series. I thought 'what's going on?' "Then people in rehearsal for this mentioned The Artist and I'd already run into Jude Law and asked him what he was doing and he said Martin Scorsese was doing something about silent movies.

"I went white and I said 'don't tell me'! I think one reason is that movies have got so technical now. They are full of effects that aren't real and a lot of actors aren't trying to act. I think the life has gone out of it. Film acting has got a bit sterile and formulaic but in a silent film like The Artist people use their whole bodies. I think that's got something to do with the appeal of it."

Whether a re-awakening of interest in art that works for its money or a mere coincidence, it makes a timely arrival for Travelling Light, a simple story well told and unencumbered by flashy distractions.

While the story, inter-cut with Motl's film footage, might not offer the happy-ever-after you'd expect, it's homely fare that certainly struck a chord with Sher. Both he and Wright were born in South Africa and the actor, who moved here in the late 60s, empathises with the play's central theme of leaving your homeland to seek freedom and inspiration elsewhere. …

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