Thursday 22 September 2016

The Pianist of Willesden Lane - Review

St James Theatre, London


Adapted and directed by Hershey Felder
Based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane by  Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

In a non-stop performance of virtuoso theatre, The Pianist of Willesden Lane sees Mona Golabek, an accomplished American concert pianist, pay the most remarkable of tributes to her late mother Lisa Jura.

An accomplished pianist herself and who in fact taught her daughter Mona to play, the Jewish Jura was born in Vienna in the 1920s and as the tentacles of Nazism spread into Austria, by a quirk of fortune was to be spared the unfolding Holocaust. Following the Kristallnacht in 1938 her family, heartbreakingly, placed her on a Kindertransport train to London, where she ultimately found herself billeted at a hostel in Willesden Lane. Here friendships were formed, her Jewish heritage was preserved and her love for the piano was encouraged.

Jura told her life history to Golabek who then published her mother's story as a book. Subsequently and working with director Hershey Felder, Jura’s journey has been translated into this 90 minute solo show that combines a heartfelt narrative interspersed with exquisitely performed extracts of some of the greatest classical piano compositions - and there is even a sprinkling of American songbook gems too. It makes for an evening of moving powerful drama as we follow Jura's heroic personal endeavours and learn of her family’s fate as European Jewry burned. 

Simply staged, Golabek sits at a Steinway itself framed by a handful of gilt picture frames upon which images of loved ones or historical scenes are projected. It's slick yet painstaking, with the unfolding of a story that is as inspirational as it is educational - telling ultimately of how British kindness offered sanctuary to the forever grateful refugee child.

Lisa Jura's story is one of beauty, goodness and perseverance that was born out of a time of evil, slaughter and destruction, but what makes The Pianist of Willesden Lane truly remarkable is the woman who has made it possible. Golabek tells her mother's remarkable story, one of so many that must never be forgotten, in a performance of elegance, dignity and breathtaking musical excellence.

Runs until 22nd October
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

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