This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
Danny Braverman inherited a shoebox full of scraps from his great uncle Ab Solomons which turned out to be his weekly drawings for his wife Celie on his wage packets. They depict a moment, a feeling and the mundane life of a young newlywed Jewish couple in the 1920s in east London. The story of their lives is told through these illustrations which paint a full, lyrical picture of their circumstances and emotions.
Braveman weaves an entrancing narrative of Ab and Celie’s years of marriage that captures the struggles, heartbreaks and joy of the relationship. The journey is not only through their lives but also acts as an art history voyage through the evolving style of the pictures and infers a substantial amount of information for the lightly captioned, lovingly crafted drawings. There are records of holidays in the rainy seaside town, her eye for luxurious fashion and his inability to look comfortable in anything he wears. They also chart quarrels and make plain his view of Celie’s opinionated sister Lily. And there is even an abstract few that symbolize the milestones and significant events of their marriage.
And most importantly, it is Jewish culture and customs which are deeply embedded in their lives that shine through. They are great illustrations for the social and historical study of the Jewish community in London through the decades. That sense of culture is emphasised by the fried fish balls every member of the audience received as they sat down for the show. The pungent smell of the fish ball is a recurring theme, acting as an anchor to the story.
The audience’s total engagement with the narrative has as much to do with Braverman’s superb storytelling as with the drawings themselves. The rich source of material and the highly personal connection with subject, together with his lyricism and relaxed demeanour naturally draws one into the world of Ab and Celie. It is a ride through life’s ups and downs with moments of unconditional delight and others that move one to tears.
The magnificent epilogue recalls the prologue and brilliantly mirrors the story itself, poignantly illustrating the linearity, circular or helical nature of life. Ab and Celie and the performance will linger in our hearts with its love, reality and the beauty of it all.
Photo: Malwina Comoloveo