My Stubborn Tongue - by Anna Fishbeyn

My Stubborn Tongue
Written and Performed by Anna Fishbeyn (@AnnaFishbeyn)

The Soho Theatre Cabaret space in the basement, is one of my favourite spaces in all of London -it’s intimate, close and feels underground - like being part of a secret club. The audience sit at tables rather than in rows - perfect for cabarets, comedy and storytelling. It was here we hear Anna Fishbeyn's life story - 'My Stubborn Tongue.' We journey from her childhood where she is Jewish (and ostracised for this reason) in Russia, to being Russian (and ostracised for this reason) in America, and her 'refusal to be defined by her origins'. It was a brilliant, well told story, stitched together with songs, and skilfully played characterisations of Fishbeyn’s family and friends. Her mother and Aunt were a brilliant double act, probably carrying some of my favourite moments in the show, and looking back now I feel as though there were two women on stage, rather than just the one.

Interspersed with the parts of the story, Anna occasionally found herself in the spotlight, vulnerable and alone as an offstage male voice taught her American-English. There was something disconcerting about these sections - we witnessed her struggle, and were offered a clear insight in to what it may be like for a child trying to learn a second language. It was an apt device – making it sad and uncomfortable, but not sentimental.

The songs throughout offered a varied layer, and a favourite of mine was Fishbeyn’s own version of the ‘Cell Block Tango’ – in which one by one their neighbours rejected them for being Russian, ‘immigrants’ and ‘commys’. Fishbeyn is skilled at gift-wrapping her messages in humour, but you don’t have to slice too deeply to find the disturbing truth underneath.

Despite the comedic performance and cabaret style songs, this show had a profound and lasting message, one of immigration, the stories of those wishing to cross borders often at best for the hope of a better life, but frequently to escape abuse, exclusion and in many cases safety – all important things for us to consider as we approach the general election – each candidate offering different takes on immigration.

Fishbeyn has a huge personality, and it suits – this is a big show! It perhaps felt a little too big for the small audience in the Soho Cabaret space on a Friday afternoon. It needs, and deserves a big reception. She sings both American and Russian songs with gusto, these songs deserve a worthy round of applause, which didn’t come during this performance, but I sincerely hope it has elsewhere, I imagine it’s a very different experience for both performer and audience when it’s a little more lively in the stalls.

This performance has ended now, but visit: for more info, and to see Anna's family album.

(C) Amie Taylor 2015

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