Writers: Anthony Clavane, Mike Levy
Director: Tash Hyman
Milim, described as Leeds’ “own Jewish culture, heritage and literature organisation”, made September 10th a day of celebration for the Jewish community in Leeds, especially those of a certain age. Recording memories of life in the 1950s has led Milim into producing a splendid souvenir programme full of reminiscences, some of them unfortunately reducing the impact of hearing them repeated in the play. The foyer was decorated with characterful photographs of those whose memories made up Meet Me at Cantors.
The focus for many of these memories was Cantor’s fish and chip shop on the corner of Chapeltown Road and Harehills Avenue which was a centre for Jewish social life from the 1970s until Sylvia and Harold Cantor moved to Brighton in 1975 – the name, incidentally, still exists, but it is no longer Jewish-owned.
A better place for the day of celebration could not have been found than Riley Theatre. Founded as the New Synagogue in 1922 as the Jewish population moved north, it closed in 1983 as the march north to Moortown and Alwoodley continued, it retains its dome and the huge semi-circle of wooden pews giving on to a large acting area.
If it was a privilege to share the first of two performances (the second following a mere three hours later) with an audience reliving their youth (a repeated line to audience was, “Do you remember…?”), the play itself was frankly disappointing. Tash Hyman explained how little time the actors had to work on it and all were carrying scripts which resulted in the occasional hiatus. The set was limited: a coat-peg, two chairs, a bridge table with chairs and a kitchen table with refreshments.
Anthony Clavane has written some memorable works on the Jewish community in Leeds (Promised Land about supporting Leeds United especially striking), but he and Mike Levy seemed content with recycling the memories they were given. The action took place at a bridge club, with the arrival of a new member about as strong as the plot got except for Harvey’s love affair that never was.
Cantors remained at the heart of matters, with its most famous denizen being Jacob Kramer, once a struggling artist, later world-famous. The story of Kramer drawing customers led to a rather sweet resolution of Harvey’s dilemma, but, despite the efforts of Bill Bingham, Fiz Marcus, Alyson Marks, Alfred Israel, Bryan Sansom and Janet Amsden, it was difficult to become involved in their story. All, it must be said, were remarkably spry in the brief dance interludes.
All in all, this was a charming recollection of the past for those who had lived through the 1950s in Chapeltown’s Jewish community.
Reviewed on 13th September 2023