This show begins very badly, with its writer/presenter, Danny Braverman, handing round cold fish balls to the audience and, with the unpleasant taste still lingering in the mouth, he embarks on a rather unpromising anecdote about a bowel operation. His style is relaxed and amiable but not witty and he seems to be rambling, which makes it all the more surprising when I realised, after about 15 minutes, that I had become totally enthralled. The true story concerns his great aunt, Celie and her husband Ab Solomons, an employed Jewish shoemaker living in London’s East End. They married in 1926 and, from that time for over half a century, Ab received his weekly pay in a small, brown, dated envelope and, on the reverse side, he drew sketches depicting the couple’s life together. Having found these envelopes in shoeboxes, Braverman projects them onto a screen and relates the couple’s story, in some cases illuminating the sketches with supposition, in others leaving them to explain themselves. As Ab grows in confidence, the sketches become bolder and more explicit; they tell of young lovers, proud parents, wartime hardship, heartache and illness. Ab and Celie’s younger son was afflicted by severe autism and epilepsy and, as was normal in those times, he was incarcerated in a “loony bin”. Ab was a “schlump”, but Celie had style and aspirations, always wanting to move from the squalid East End to the middle class Golders Green. Overwhelmingly, this is a story of undying love, constantly tugging at the heartstrings, but never resorting to excessive sentimentality. It is also a story of fortitude, endurance and of overcoming life’s trials and it is told by Braverman with great affection and family pride, as shown when he finds himself as a child amongst the figures in the sketches. The story also has symmetry and irony – Ab and Celie’s older son was (and still is) an art dealer who owned a Rothko and lunched with the likes of Francis Bacon, yet he never realised the value of the treasures lying in shoe boxes beneath his own bed. In all, this is the most beautiful and moving piece of story telling that I can remember experiencing.
Performance date: 3 July 2014