The wonderful and hilarious Man Booker Prize winner, The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson, bounces into the Royal Exchange in a world premiere stage adaptation by Simon Bent. Bent’s adaptation of The Mighty Walzer is a real scream, giving the Royal Exchange’s audience an uplifting dose of superb theatre to close the season on.
The Mighty Walzer is a lively semi-autobiographical story charting Jacobson’s experience of growing up in Prestwich. It’s a coming-of-age story about a quiet Jewish boy who moves into the slightly odd and passionate world of ping-pong, alongside discovering girls and applying for a place to study at Cambridge University.
Elliot Levey leads the cast perfectly, bearded with a smart suit, he projects the Jewish teen Oliver Walzer as well as providing the humorous mature tone of Jacobson’s narrator. Levey engages warmly with his audience, looking at members of the crowd directly – his performance feels personal. Jonathan Humphrey’s impressive direction is pacey and playful, reminding me of ‘Kevin Arnold’ and ‘The Wonder Years’ from my youth. The Mighty Walzer is feel-good theatre, intelligently executed.
Tracy-Ann Obermann shines as Sadie, Oliver’s extravagant but caring mother – her half empty glass contrasts comically with dad, Joel Walzer played by Jonathan Tafler – forever the optimist, selling odd bits and bobs out of the back of his van. There are strong performances throughout from Ann Marcuson as Sadie’s eccentric twin sisters Dolly and Dora; Daniel Abelson, Joe Coen and David Crellin also impress as big influencers during Oliver’s formative teenage years.
The Mighty Walzer will leave you smiling from ear to ear and possibly reflecting on your own awkward teenage memories. The laughter from the audience filled the Royal Exchange’s Great Hall on the night that I attended – a certain testament to how fine this production is. Don’t just take my word for it – go and see for yourselves.