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The Theatreguide.London Review

Golda's Balcony
Shaw Theatre     Summer 2008

October 1973 was Israel's Tsunami. Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, taking Israel's military and political leaders by surprise. William Gibson's play opens with a loud bang, sounds of machine guns, and aircraft zooming, setting the scene for the turmoil of events that follows.

Golda Meir was then Israel's Prime Minister. In a solo performance American actress Tovah Feldshuh exposes with humour and pain Golda's personal and political life as it merges into Israel's history.

Feldshuh's humour and perfect timing impressively transport the audience hither and thither to different periods in the life of Israel's fourth Prime Minister, presenting minor and major landmarks in the history of Israel and the Jewish people.

Gibson's Golda is energetic with elements of eccentricity. Hers is a soft core coated with iron determination. The personal aspects of her life, as when she refers to her long-suffering husband Morris, are moving.

Gibson gives Morris the credit he deserves as a caring and loving husband and father who enriched Golda's life and those of their two children with his passion for literature and classical music. Golda regrets robbing him of the happiness he could have had.

Yet she never laments abandoning him and family life to pursue her dreams and aspirations for the country yet to be born. Her maternal instincts are diverted from her immediate family to the long-awaited birth of Israel.

Playwright and actress portray the Prime Minister as a no-nonsense down-to-earth woman driven by an overwhelming sense of maternal responsibility toward her people.

She grew up in Russia with the constant fear of pogroms. The Holocaust was another reminder, if one was needed, that a secure homeland was essential, and even before the declaration of the state of Israel she was travelling to secure funds for the purchase of arms.

Feldshuh brings to life the famous meeting between Golda and King Abdullah of Transjordan, managing to generate the warmth and affection that were reportedly present at that encounter. Golda's communications with US diplomat Henry Kissinger fare less favourably and play less convincingly.

Gibson and Feldshuh employ considerable humour to soften this formidable lady and her perception of her colleagues, as when she refers to her Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan, something of a romantic idol of the time, by saying with a grin, 'He is a very busy . . . lover.'

Scott Schwartz's direction is simple yet inspired. The backdrop suggests the Wailing Wall, adorned with Jewish symbols, but also creates imaginative physical and historical niches to accommodate the old fashioned kitchen table and all-important telephone that dominate the stage and link the various periods in Golda's life.

The ending is somewhat weak and rather imposed, and a more inventive conclusion might have echoed the bang of the opening.

This is a potted history of a world figure whose failure to anticipate and prepare for the 1973 war cast a long shadow over her achievements. Gibson manages to illuminate a key moment in history and, perhaps, to disperse some of the fall-out from its long range clouds.

Rivka Jacobson

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Review of Golda's Balcony - Shaw Theatre 2008


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