Theatre review: Scraps of Heaven

A tribute to Arnold Zable’s novel is brought vividly to life on stage.

In the depths of a second COVID winter in Melbourne, Arnold Zable and Evelyn Krape accomplished something quite remarkable – a one-hour show based on extracts from Arnold’s acclaimed 2004 novel, Scraps of Heaven, created by whittling the novel down to just 11 representative scenes. To manipulate an entire book into a cohesive and compelling scaled-down performance is no mean feat, and Zable, Krape and their creative team have done it with style.

Channelling the voices and places of 1950s Carlton, Scraps of Heaven chronicles the highs and lows of an immigrant Jewish family, interwoven with a diverse cast of characters, many of whom will feel relatable to the audience, regardless of age or background.

The tribute show is interspersed with an evocative blend of live and recorded narration, ever-changing mood lighting and incredible live music. It also serves as the launch of the Scraps of Heaven audiobook (narrated by Krape) as well as a celebration of the Kadimah’s 110th anniversary, which features in the novel as one of the landmarks.

Established in Bourke Street in 1911, then later Carlton, and finally Elsternwick in the 1960s, the Kadimah is an important Jewish cultural centre and library, and the most important Yiddish-oriented Jewish organisation in Australia. It’s also a place where song, dance and thought come together.

Read: Theatre review: Hamlet in the Other Room, Good Company Theatre Collective

The Kadimah Yiddish Theatre has done a stellar job presenting a show to tantalise the audience – it’s a story you long to hear more of, hence the timely launch of the audiobook. Depending on your age, it’s akin to a 60-minute trip down memory lane, or a beautifully packaged history lesson. The audience laughed, swayed, sang and sighed as performer Evelyn Krape’s powerful enactment took us from optimism to sorrow, and wrapped us in the warmth of sentimentality.

Without doubt, much of the joy of the tribute show is attributable to Toby Bender and his five-piece band. Bender’s intoxicating vocals were a highlight – he morphed from Yiddish folk songs to post-war jazz and even Dean Martin hits, as the band recreated the sounds of dance halls of the time, transporting the audience to a bygone era.

Scraps of Heaven succeeds in its aim of painting an inclusive picture of a specific era in Melbourne. It’s a changing world where lifelong rivalries and bonds are forged in homes, streets and community spaces, and cultural and ideological factors are cemented by the smallest of everyday happenings.

Scraps of Heaven,
Based on the book by Arnold Zable

Creative Team (in part):
Performer/Co-creator: Evelyn Krape
Author/Co-creator: Arnold Zable
Music Director: Toby Bender
Music Consultant: Tomi Kalinski
Directorial Consultant: Gary Abrahams

Vocals: Toby Bender
Violin: Alex Burkoy
Accordion: Anthony Schulz
Double Bass: Rodrigo Salgado
Piano: Eric Freedman
Drums: Ben Hendry

Scraps of Heaven was performed from 9-12 December at the Kadimah Jewish Cultural Centre, Elsternwick

Sarah is a freelance writer working predominantly in the Arts. Her clients include Nickelodeon, Child Magazines, aMBUSH Gallery, Kidspot, and the RSPCA. Her short play, ‘Celebrity is the New Bleak’, was performed at the Victorian Arts Centre, and in 2018 she co-founded the annual Stellar Short Film Festival to support Australian filmmakers.