It’s worth a traipse down south for such entertainment

Mrs Dorfman and I are in need of some light relief so we’ve come to see the Comedy Store Players in London’s West End.

The previous night, we watched Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party and came out baffled and depressed.

So some improvisational comedy from the cast of TV’s Whose Line Is It Anyway? should cheer us up.

In one sketch, they improvise a murder mystery play. Inevitably, a dead body is discovered in a ditch.

“Who is it?” asks one of the actors.

“I don’t know” comes the reply. “But I think he’s Russian.”

The audience laugh, but from our front-row seats we can hear the wonderful Josie Lawrence telling the others not to go there. Why not, I wonder? Isn’t all humour offensive?

So the opportunity to laugh at state-sponsored attempted murder in Britain using a nerve agent is lost.

Which is a pity, since the joke is actually on us. We fooled ourselves into believing the recent BBC series McMafia was drama when actually it was documentary.

Fortunately, it doesn’t spoil one of the funniest nights out I’ve had for ages. Not that Mrs Dorfman is with me in London just for the theatres, concerts, galleries, restaurants and Covent Garden boutiques. Certainly not. We’re here on a serious mission.

It’s Jewish Book Week — our annual opportunity to hear big names in the literary world discussing their latest books with an interviewer who is usually a well-known journalist or Radio 4 broadcaster.

Most of these people rarely come up north unless they already have connections here, so we have to traipse down there. We rarely see any northern faces at this event, which is a shame because you don’t know what you are missing. First up were Maureen Lipman and Melanie Phillips. What an odd couple they make together. Lipman is funny and brilliantly talented, but on politics she’s got nothing original to contribute.

Phillips is deadly serious though she’s less angry on stage than on BBC radio.

And she has a great story to tell, which is how she worked for The Guardian for years but eventually grew disillusioned with their position on a variety of social issues and, of course, Israel.

So she moved to the Daily Mail, but didn’t like it there either. She says: “The Guardian hates the people, but the Daily Mail hates the people who hate the people”.

Which I think is a bit harsh on both papers. It was the Daily Mail, remember, which campaigned tirelessly for many years for justice for the family of Stephen Lawrence when no other newspaper was interested.

Phillips is scathing about the media’s stance on Israel. They don’t know the facts and they don’t care that they don’t know. For decades, countless opinion formers have assured each other that Israel is racist and colonialist — so who needs facts?

Next on was Robert Peston, who told us what’s wrong with the economy. Quite a lot, apparently. Who knew?

Peston’s weird way of talking is much mocked, but he is worth listening to.

He’s extremely well-informed, as objective as I think anyone can be, and I trust him. He was a Remainer and says that Brexit will damage the economy, but not a lot.

Having travelled extensively in the North-East over the past, he acknowledges that globalisation has ruined the lives of many people there.

So he isn’t surprised they voted for Brexit, a response that Peston says was entirely logical and understandable.

Peston wants the government to solve the housing crisis by taxing house values. Well, it’s a start, I suppose.

Trump On Trial was a “kvetchathon” which allowed Simon Schama and Howard Jacobson to heap abuse and invective on the 45th president. Frankly, I expected better of Jacobson, whose novels and essays I admire and enjoy.

I assumed a novelist would try to get under Trump’s skin, to understand the man’s character and what drives him.

Luckily, The Guardian’s columnist Jonathan Freedland was on hand to provide some context.

Freedland followed Trump around on the campaign trail and grasped early on that insulting this man only made him stronger and more popular with his core supporters.

But Schama and Jacobson weren’t listening.

David Thomson has written a book about Warner Brothers. There were four brothers and none of them knew anything about film making. But they had a knack for talent-spotting.

They saw, for example, there was more to Bogart than his tough-guy gangster persona; he could play a tough-guy romantic lead, too. So they cast him in Casablanca.

The film proved a big hit, but shortly after it scooped the 1943 Oscars, Jack Warner heard that the Marx Brothers were filming a spoof called A Night In Casablanca. So he threatened to sue them for using Casablanca in their title.

Groucho wasn’t intimidated. He wrote back and pointed out that the Marx Brothers had been brothers before the Warners came along — so he should be suing them!

It was a delight to hear Douglas Murray being interviewed by Rod Liddle, both of them living proof that non-Jews don’t all hate us, contrary to the claims of some ignorant people you occasionally meet.

Murray is sceptical about mass immigration, which he claims threatens European and British culture and cohesion.

I was desperate to clamber on to the stage to join in the discussion, but Mrs Dorfman threatened to leave me if I did. So I had to console myself with asking a question from the audience.

Liddle agreed with me that Islamophobia is a made-up, post-9/11 nonsense word — and added that homophobia was a nonsense word, too. Jewish Book Week is hugely entertaining and thought provoking. I only wish it were longer.

But I’ll definitely be back next year (with or without Mrs Dorfman).


Site developed & maintained by
© 2018 Jewish Telegraph