Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Soviet Zion at the Lost Theatre
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31 Oct REVIEW: Soviet Zion at the Lost Theatre

Guest review

I was very much looking forward to seeing Soviet Zion at the Lost Theatre. The concept fascinated me, and I was incredibly intrigued as to how Giles Howe, Katy Lipson and Roberto Trippini would tackle the story of two families, one American and the other Ukrainian, who in 1939 both move to Siberia to participate in a movement to create a Yiddish utopia. Upon my arrival, I was assured that despite the show being three hours long, I wouldn’t notice the time passing, and that there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. But unfortunately those words were slightly too bold.

The musical started well with a strong opening number; the voices of the actors worked well together to create with beautiful harmonies, something not unexpected from a cast with such a firm operatic background. It was particularly striking in the group numbers, when impressive operatic notes could shine through. However, the introduction of a narrator stilted the performance and seemed unnecessary given the indisputable ability of the actors to tell the story so well themselves. I found the incessant, irrelevant interruption irritating, and the choice of 21st century reading glasses a source of annoyance for the duration of the performance.

For me, the standout stars were American brother and sister David and Bayla Levin (played by James Charlton and Michaela Stern). Their sibling rivalry provided a welcome light-hearted relief without being unrealistic, and Stern’s vocals were absolutely superb. However, whilst Charlton had great chemistry with his on stage sister, it was rather lacking with his love interest, Zofia Liberman (Molly Lynch). Individually, both performers excelled in their roles, but when together something didn’t quite fit and I actually cringed during their first kiss.

During the performance, I found myself looking forward to hearing about the American family’s story much more than the Ukranian one. I felt that Kate Milner-Evans who played the mother, Mirele Liberman, overacted and that some of the most emotional scenes could have worked much better had they not been sung. Iser Liberman (Alex McMorran) on the other hand, played his role superbly and if anyone was going to make me shed a tear, it would probably be him.

We knew it was a long show and it was half way through the second half that the audience started fidgeting. Without any particularly memorable or engaging songs, the story needed to move more quickly to avoid people falling asleep. I always feel I’ve seen a good musical when I come out of the theatre humming my favourite song; but in this instance, I couldn’t even repeat a single lyric. It felt like a story had been put to music, rather than turning an existing story into a musical.

Overall, I think the musical has potential. The story is interesting and I didn’t guess the ending (my money was on a dramatic death from Molly Liberman or David Levin). However, without particularly memorable songs, it feels quite long and the emotional story almost gets lost. As an emotional person, I was sure the tissues in my bag would be an essential part of the evening; unfortunately I wasn’t even close to touching them.

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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