Moira Blumenthal

For the past five years Shalom  and director Moira Blumenthal have co-produced a quality work of theatre for ever hungry Sydney theatre audiences. In 2014 it was Aaron Posner’s stage adaptation of Chaim Potok’s novel ‘The Chosen’ which played a theatre set up within Shalom College’s Educational Centre. In 2015 it was Arthur Feinsod’s ‘Coming to see Aunt Sophie’ at the Fig Tree Theatre UNSW. In 2016 it was ‘My Name is Asher Lev’, another stage adaptation by Aaron Posner of a Chaim Potok novel which played the Eternity Playhouse. Last year  it was South African playwright Victor Gordon’s ‘You will not play Wagner’ again at the Eternity.

This year, in an exciting development, the offering is the Australian premiere of a play by an internationally acclaimed Australian playwright whose work isn’t performed enough in his home country. The play is ‘The Man in the Attic’ by Timothy Daly. Daly’s play has a fascinating scenario inspired by true events. A  Jewish man is hidden by a German couple during the latter days of the Nazi regime. (Historical records indicate that over 11,000 Jews were hidden in attics, cellars and basements during the Second World War).

When the War ends, the couple tells him that the Nazis won the war, and that he will have to remain hidden! Locked inside their attic for his so called protection, the couple continue to profit from his captivity. (They take advantage of his skills as a jeweller and watchmaker and set up a bit of a business). As the husband overplays his hand and the wife becomes trapped in a conflict between greed and humanity, the Jew begins to realise that something has changed…

Ahead of the play’s opening in early July I shot  through a few questions to Moira:-

Q. For the last few years you have been putting on a show at the Eternity Playhouse. I very much enjoyed your show ‘You Will Not Play Wagner’ about a well known Israeli musician who insists on playing a Wagner piece in an international music competition even though Wagner was a virulent anti-semite. The play was written by a South African playwright. Its so exciting that for this year’s production you have chosen a work by an internationally acclaimed Australian playwright, Timothy Daly, most famous for his work ‘Kafka Dances’ which saw the professional debut, after graduating from NIDA, of Cate Blanchett. Was it a deliberate decision by you to choose the work of an Australian playwright this time around?  

A- I have been wanting to direct The Man in the Attic for the past 6 years. In 2013 the play was programmed for a season at the Bondi Pavilion, but we couldn’t continue as the piece was being considered for a film. So, when the Eternity Playhouse offered us for a slot for 2018, I  immediately emailed Timothy Daly in Los Angeles. He said that ‘coincidentally’ he had spoken to his American agent that morning and had been given the green light to go ahead with a theatre production – destiny had come calling.

Q. I assumed that Timothy Daly had been on your radar as his plays often have Jewish themes. What draws you to Daly’s writing?

A. I love the poetry and musicality in Timothy’s writing. He presents a skilfully crafted script with characters who are layered with astuteness and intelligence. This is the third Timothy Daly play that I’ve worked on. The first was as a result of seeing the original season of Kafka Dances with Cate Blanchett at the Stables Theatre.  I was so blown away with the story and the dysfunctional family dynamics that I introduced the script to the Market Theatre in South Africa.  Timothy came to Johannesburg for the opening night and the play won the South African national award for best play.

Q.Intriguingly, there is a romance that takes place during the play. Daly has said that the play featured ‘the most incongruous love story I have ever written’, and he wants people to feel exhilarated after seeing it. Are you able to elaborate about this for readers.

A. Yes. There is an intriguing love story that develops between the German wife and the imprisoned Jew.  The play is set when the German genocide has ended, the Allies are approaching and the characters’ survival balances precariously on sifting sands of propaganda and lies.   And yet the play is hugely rewarding, as it resolves with wonderful images of hope and coming out of the darkest of worlds into the possibilities of a new time. Jewish stories are often loaded with challenging moral issues and this play is no exception.

Q. Rehearsals begin soon. Can you please reveal your cast and creative team? They will have extra motivation knowing that it is the play’s Australian premiere production.

A. The team all have a sense of working on something special. Barry French is playing The Jew, Danielle King plays The Wife,  Gus Murray plays The Man and Colleen Cook The Neighbour.  Our designers are Hugh O’Connor who is designing the set and costumes, Emma Lockhart-Wilson is the lighting designer and Tegan Nichols is responsible for the sound design

Q. Your shows at the Eternity have always been dramatic works. You clearly are more drawn to this genre? In the future would you consider putting on a comedy. What about a satirical comedy? I note that the next play coming up is a contemporary adaptation, by  Hilary Bell, of a Moliere satire.

A. How did you guess?!  We’re programming a warm, very funny Jewish comedy called The God of Isaac for 2019.  It is written by the Chicago-based James Sherman, who also wrote Beau Jest, This Old Man Came Rolling Home and our successful production of From Door to Door. The Jews can occasionally laugh at themselves – at their ridiculous stereotypes and eternal list of neurosis. We even have a ’typical’ Jewish mother sitting in the audience watching and commenting on the play written by her son –  a son who is desperate to understand ‘what it is to be Jewish’?

The Australian Premiere production of Timothy Daly’s ‘The Man In The Attic’  previews from Thursday 5th July, opens on Saturday 7th July and plays the Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst until Sunday 22nd July, 2018.

Featured image – Timothy Daly and Moira Blumenthal in conversation recently at the Sydney Jewish Museum.