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Theatre Preview: A Manchester Girlhood

Based on the lives of three Manchester Jewish women and their Romanian immigrant parents, A Manchester Girlhood gets a Blackpool showing this week as the play embarks on a short tour.

Written and directed by Julia Pascal, the story is based on her own family heritage and begins in Bucharest 1910, as Esther Goldenberg has been forced to marry Emanuel Jacobs.

“Esther is described as a ‘difficult girl’, which is a title that resonates with me,” says Rosie Yadid who plays her. “She wants more for herself than the life that is laid out for her but has no way of actualising it, which is why she is so adamant that her daughters receive the education she was denied. Because of the elasticity of time within the piece, that difficult girl is at the heart of Esther, even in old age.”

That elasticity of time projects audiences through the decades as the two young Romanian Jews move to Manchester and have three daughters – Isabel, Edith and Pearl. Isabel’s only ambition is to be a doctor’s wife. Edith becomes a soldier. Pearl marries a GI. These three sisters are at the heart of the drama.

“I think diaspora is a really tangible experience and a big part of Jewish identity,” says Yadid. “It’s a familiar refrain of loss and belonging that is universal.”

This dream-like text explores the idea that each person relives intense moments from a whole life in the moment before death, something Yadid likes to think theatre can also achieve – “like life distilled,” she says.

Characters are seen both as children, young, mature, and elderly women, like a mosaic that collages intense experiences within the outer drama of world events including World War Two and racism in the US.

“The play covers a lot of ground, but to my mind it’s about unrealised potential and the havoc it wreaks on a life,” says Yadid, pointing to the fame experience explored in the play. It highlights the importance of women’s education, marriage and unexplored, erotic desire.

These unknown women’s experiences offer the audience a sense of the large political framework through the lives of the unheard. The total effect is to expose the boundless energy of women who have not been allowed the education to fulfil their brilliant potential.

“We need to see where we’ve come from in order to set our sights on where we’re going,” says Yadid. “These limitations and pressures have not gone away – the patterns of patriarchal oppression persist even if they’re showing up in different ways.”

A Manchester Girlhood is at the Old Electric Theatre, 20th April. Visit the OE’s website to book.

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    Antonia Charlesworth Stack is a journalist and editor from Blackpool. She was deputy editor of Big Issue North magazine and is editor of Blackpool Social Club. Antonia is also the founder of Reclaim Blackpool, a women's safety campaign that began life as an article she wrote for Blackpool Social Club. She's a contributing author to the Lancashire Stories anthology with her story about a Blackpool performer, The Call of The Sea. The book is available for free in libraries across the county.

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