Chanucah panto gave Debra the acting bug


EVER since she was five, Leeds actress Debra Tammer knew she wanted to be a performer.

And the star of A Mancunian Rhapsody gives credit for her motivation to ex-Leeds resident Hazel Broch, who now lives in Israel.

The musical comedy premieres at the London Jewish Cultural Centre on Monday, July 28, for a run of four performances.

A former Allerton High School student, Debra's creative talents were fired by the dramatic stories from the Bible which she heard as a child at the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue in Leeds.

"The stories were so brilliantly related and taught in an inspirational way by Hazel," Debra said. "The shul Chanucah pantomimes probably gave me my first taste of performing and were the building blocks that helped foster my passion for drama."

Through that induction and with an actor's-life-for-me approach, Debra set her sights on pursuing her dream.

It was while she was a Morris Silman Middle School pupil that Debra seized the opportunity to appear in Emmerdale when the Yorkshire soap did a Chanucah special.

Filmed at Leeds' Etz Chaim Synagogue, Debra's big moment was to light the menorah.

Leaving Leeds at 18 to read English at Oxford, Debra acted in a number of plays before moving to London three years later to take a post-graduate classical acting course at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Her first acting job was for the now-defunct satellite station Live TV where she played a murder victim on a crime reconstruction documentary and was asked to hang from a tree for two hours.

After securing an agent, she joined a touring theatre company and acted in The Merchant of Venice.

The usual rounds of TV commercials followed, including playing a crazy lady in a Kellogg's Crunchy Nut advert, which "helped pay off the debts".

Things started to move quickly. She was in a play at the Lyric Hammersmith called Fourplay and kept getting regular work as a voice-over on radio and TV, even playing a small part in Kay Mellor's Fat Friends - "I was the thin girl," she laughed.

Debra followed this by securing the part of obsessive anorexic Joanna in her first feature film, the 2004 rom-com Suzie Gold.

Debra created Zara Zimmerman in the biting satire That's for Me when she was feeling frustrated as a professional actor.

"I kept noticing how many talentless individuals were rising to stardom without genuinely deserving fame," she said. "Although this wound me up I also found great potential for humour.

"So I created Zara, a delusional actress devoid of any talent from a pushy Jewish family.

"I saw this not only as potential for me as an actress, but also a way to use the character to satirise the current obsession with fame, wealth and fake beauty."

After meeting fellow writer Claudia Solti, whom she knew from their LAMDA days, the duo collaborated on a spoof documentary.

"Our drama school connections meant we could draw on our own experiences and cover all the pitfalls that go with the acting profession, from failed auditions to competitive actors," Debra said.

The key-scene was a Friday night dinner where an assortment of dysfunctional relatives conspire over chicken soup and lockshen to plot their relative's inevitable rise to stardom.

Made on a shoestring and a prayer, the film featured Harriet Thorpe and Steve Furst.

Now the mother of three daughters, Debra is the offspring of Hilary and Gerald Tammer, who gave their daughter the parental support that any young aspiring actress needs.

"My parents always encouraged me in everything I did," she recalled. "They passed on to me their strong commitment to Judaism; something that has stayed with me to this day."

A Mancunian Rhapsody will be staged as part of this month's Camden Fringe Theatre Festival and Debra is enthusiastic about the outcome.

The play concerns a Jewish Orthodox woman Rivki Pashinsky from Manchester with a guilty pleasure for Freddie Mercury.

Her son, Michael, played by Danny Hart, is an esteemed rabbi and cantor, who is marrying Brooklyn-born alopecia ridden, lisp-inflicted, overweight Devorah Feigenblum, also played by Debra.

Marrying the apparently unrelated worlds of Queen with the account of Orthodox Jews from Manchester may seem left of centre, points out Debra, but "I know it will be worth its weight in comedy gold".

Follow Debra on Twitter @DebraTammer

© 2014 Jewish Telegraph