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Golda's Balcony

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Every doctor and dentist in North London was at the Shaw on the night I went to see Tovah Feldshuh in Golda's Balcony (so was the Israeli ambassador to London). But there was no remedy. I still suffered, almost as much as Golda herself did over the decision to go ahead with Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal in the early 1970s; her balcony was an observation point of a view of hell.

Golda Meir was an amazing woman in many ways. And the American theatre is full of amazing Jewish women though, personally, I prefer performers like Ethel Merman or Barbra Streisand to politicians. Another minus factor: Golda looked like Jimmy “Schnozzle” Durante and wore medical stockings. But unlike Jimmy, she wasn’t a laugh a minute, either.

The script by Broadway veteran William Gibson (author of The Miracle Worker and Two for the Seesaw) packs Golda’s biography into a night of tension (well, there’s a clock ticking away) on the eve of the Yom Kippur war in 1973. She was born in Russia, emigrated to Milwaukee, became a Zionist, went to Palestine in 1921, and ascended the political pole in good time for the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948. She was foreign minister in 1956, prime minister in 1969. She died in 1978.

Golda sits at a table in a dressing gown. There’s a big brick wall behind her – is that a wailing wall, or a job lot of polystyrene from a pantomime warehouse? -- on which are flashed up photos of the men in her life: her meek Denver husband, David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, King Abdullah.

Tovah Feldshuh is a fine actress. She won numerous awards for this performance and the show ran for 17 months on Broadway. Her Golda is a grimly outlined character, though, apart from a briefly hilarious, mumbling impersonation of Henry Kissinger. She’s a war-monger with a conscience, oy-veh; who isn’t?

And all the good Feldshuh’s done is undone for me at the curtain call, where she not only makes an embarrassingly craven speech to the ambassador, but also brandishes her spin-off books and recordings like a huckster in a street market. Solo show-wise, give me Jackie Mason any day.

-Michael Coveney


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