Headline political tensions give depressing topicality to the 1936 Battle of Cable Street, when east London immigrant communities united to resist the shattering, scattering violence of Oswald Mosley’s fascists.

The fight for the streets is the background to Tracy-Ann Oberman’s chilling Shakespearean revision The Merchant of Venice 1936 (currently in London) and is now musicalised in Cable Street. Whereas Oberman properly focused, for textual and contemporary reasons, on antisemitism, Tim Gilvin’s songs and Alex Kanefsky’s script explore the broader historical context of Jews in London finding common cause with Irish and Caribbean communities and socialists fighting fascism in Spain. The framing device of a modern historical walking tour allows London’s diasporas to be brought up to date.

In the 1930s sequences, the writers initially seem to be setting up a West Side Story vibe between Mairead, an Irish Catholic who works in a kosher bakery and writes poems between loaves, and Sammy, an unemployed Jewish ex-boxer. But, though both families fear this love, a greater threat is from the rising racist hatred of Ron Williams, a white working-class East Ender, who believes Mosley, by saving England for the English, will find jobs and purpose for the first settlers.

Musically, I was worried by some early conventionality – mockney elbows out and Irish ballad – but the score then argues with itself, as Mairead berates a pub crooner for “singing old songs about the Battle of the Boyne”, urging Londoners to find new music. Around 90 years of which the piece then promiscuously covers, incorporating Hamilton-like hip-hop-ish commentary, a witty Sondheim-homage quartet of newspaper sellers, big ballads invoking Lionel Bart and Andrew Lloyd Webber and – learning from Mel Brooks’ ridiculing of the far right in The Producers – a high-camp dance routine for the British Union of Fascists.

The cast of 11 (two doubling as musicians) dazzlingly play multiple roles across two time schemes. At one point, Jez Unwin brilliantly switches between a Jewish paterfamilias, a Mosley-ite neo-Nazi and a 2024 tour guide within a few words. His mellifluous virtuosity is matched by Sha Dessi’s soaring Mairead.

Southwark Playhouse has form as a musical workshop – Operation Mincemeat was perfected here between its New Diorama run and West End success – and has the makings of another hit with Adam Lenson’s production. The piece’s message is the possibility of cooperation, while quietly underlining the way in which some leaders and media stoke tribal disquiet not from ideological partisanship but in hope of creating unrest.

At Southwark Playhouse, London, until 16 March


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