Review: The Band’s Visit, Donmar Warehouse

The Band’s Visit delivers a heartwarming lesson about the power of love and music at the Donmar Warehouse

“Nothing’s as surprising as the taste of something strange”

Sometimes you do wonder what the bit of magic is that allows seemingly unassuming shows to shimmer their way to success – The Band’s Visit feels like one of those shows. Based off a 2007 Israeli film by Eran Koliran, Itamar Moses (book) and David Yazbek’s (music and lyrics) adaptation grew from Off-Broadway beginnings to 10 Tony Award-winning Broadway success. Yet as it makes its European bow at the Donmar Warehouse, it feels like it could be the slightest of things.

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra have been invited to the Israeli town of Petah Tikvah for the opening of an Arab Cultural Centre but due to a mispronunciation, end up in Bet Hatikvah, a place way out in the desert with only one bus a day. And as they have to wait til tomorrow for the next one, sticks  in a town in Israel, they’ve got to make nice with the locals despite much mutual suspicion. And in terms of formal plot, that’s about it, not so much on paper but so much more onstage.

The focus falls on the people as, naturally, they discover they’ve lots to learn from each other, even in so short a time as they’re given here. Led by widowed conductor Tewfiq finding common ground with cafe owner Dina, band members and villagers make connections across the town – teaching lessons about the power of music, empathy and love (or at least flirting), at least if you’re a man (Dina aside, the women of this story get extremely short shrift).  

With a gentle sweetness of heart, Michael Longhurst’s production proves to be charm itself. Wisely casting internationally, the gorgeously voiced Miri Mesika as Dina and Alon Moni Aboutboul as Tewfiq lead powerfully, and Yazbek’s score draws effectively on influences from the region. Soutra Gilmour’s set with its revolve opens the space to allow room for the onstage musicians to do their thing and in supporting roles, there’s beautiful work from Sharif Afifi, Peter Polycarpou and Harel Glazer. If only ignoring the political were so easy in real life.

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
The Band’s Visit is booking at the Donmar Warehouse until 3rd December

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