Milim recently premiered its play Meet Me at Cantors, exploring the Jewish narrative behind Leeds’ shopfronts and what has become of them.
Meet Me At Cantors is a new play by Anthony Clavane and Mike Levy which recently had its premiere. It provides a glimpse into the social and cultural life of the Jewish community in 1950s Leeds and is based on real stories and oral histories from members of the community who lived during that time which adds depth and authenticity to the narrative.
The choice of using a fish and chip shop as a focal point is fitting, Cantors was a renown central gathering place for the community. The location on Chapeltown Road, close to the New Synagogue (now the Northern School of Contemporary Dance) where the first performances took place, adds historical significance to the setting. It’s a testament to the changing demographics and patterns that the shop is still there but no longer under Jewish ownership, reflecting the evolution of the neighbourhood.
The play offers a nostalgic and sentimental look back at a bygone era, celebrating the lives and experiences of the Jewish community in Leeds during that time. It serves as a valuable piece of cultural history and storytelling for both the Jewish community and the broader audience. The play covers a wide range of topics, including reminiscing about old shops, work life, social mobility, trips to Blackpool, as well as the challenges of prejudice and lost loves. Despite these diverse themes, the common thread is always Cantors.
Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, it is one of the Hidden Stories that have been produced as part of Leeds 2023, the city’s year of culture. Due to limited rehearsal time, the cast had the script as an aide- memoire. This added an interesting layer to the performance, emphasizing the fragility of memories.
Speaking at the end of the second performance, Philippa Lester, one of the founding directors of Milim the organisation behind the project described how oral histories and lived experiences were the basis of the book From the Leylands to Leeds 17 which she had co-authored with the late Diane Saunders which in turn led to the creation of Milim. She went on to say how proud Diane would have been of the play, a sentiment met with applause from the near sell-out audience.
Concluding the evening and acknowledging the contributions made by everyone involved in the project Alan Benstock, the Milim director, expressed the intention of Milim to continue collecting oral histories to create an archive of lived experiences for future generations as it reflects a commitment to preserving cultural heritage.