Theatre Review: The Mighty Walzer – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

The Mighty Walzer Royal Exchange Theatre

Elliot Levey as Oliver Walzer in THE MIGHTY WALZER at Royal Exchange Theatre. Photo: Jonathan Keenan

THE MIGHTY WALZER is a fresh and modern adaption of a great comic novel

Howard Jacobson’s semi-autobiographical comic novel THE MIGHTY WALZER, has been adapted into a new stage adaptation directed by Jonathan Humphreys.

Written by Jacobson in Australia in the 1990s, THE MIGHTY WALZER is a riotous Manchester tale of growing up, sex and ping pong. It tells the story of Oliver Walzer, a socially inept, withdrawn ‘sensitive boy’ who is often found locked in the bathroom to avoid being caught in the crossfire between his parents escalating and explosive quarrels. In Simon Bent’s stage adaption, which makes its world premiere at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, Elliot Levey charismatically plays Oliver, the now middle aged man looking nostalgically back at his adolescence with mixed emotions. The play centers on his almost religious discovery and subsequent love of the game of Ping-Pong, whilst drawing on the real story of his turbulent relationship with his parents and his peers.

On his discovery of the game, a ping-pong ball appears suspended and spotlighted from the rafters, then descending down as if from the heavens itself. A young Oliver locks himself away from the tough streets of 1950’s Manchester in his room with a book as a paddle and learns, after much practice, that he is a true savant of the game. His talents are uncovered when his father drags him down to the local social club by the scruff of the neck and orders him to socialise. Here he meets three of the more colourful supporting characters that would become his childhood friends and his talents are realised and appreciated for the first time.


The Mighty Walzer Royal Exchange Theatre

Tracy-Ann Oberman as Sadie in THE MIGHTY WALZER at Royal Exchange Theatre. Photo: Jonathan Keenan

Although it is obvious from act one that Oliver’s relationship with his father is the one that has adversely affected him the most, his mother’s character Sadie, played by the very talented Tracy-Ann Oberman serves as a kind of karmic character constantly whipping him into shape with her sassy, lightning fast quips and Yiddish put downs, which has the theatre rocking with laughter. Sadie is the Yin to his father’s optimistic Yang. When a telegram arrives with the outcome of Oliver’s Cambridge entrance exam, he points out that he must have been successful, otherwise why would they send him a telegram? “It’ll be an administrative error,” Oberman retorts. “I’ll go and give your father the bad news.” She doesn’t miss a beat throughout the entire performance!

Elsewhere, Bent does an impressive job with the script. The dialogue is wicked fast, witty and oft times quite saucy, even if the play ends rather abruptly and inconclusively.

THE MIGHTY WALZER is a fresh and modern adaption of a great comic novel. Catch it while you can – you’ll be in for quite a treat!

4 out of 5 stars

THE MIGHTY WALZER runs at Royal Exchange Theatre until 30 July