Joy and sadness in home-grown Holocaust musical

The AJN reviews Driftwood - the Musical, which has returned to the Melbourne stage ahead of a premiere season in Sydney.

Wedding celebrations with (from left) Bridget Costello, Anton Berezin, Tania de Jong and Nelson Gardner in Driftwood - the Musical. Photo: James Terry
Wedding celebrations with (from left) Bridget Costello, Anton Berezin, Tania de Jong and Nelson Gardner in Driftwood - the Musical. Photo: James Terry

OVER the years, Holocaust survivors have told many stories of dramatic escapes tinged with heart-wrenching sadness.

Among the more recent local publications is Eva de Jong-Duldig’s 2017 memoir, Driftwood: Escape and Survival Through Art, which has been adapted for the stage as Driftwood – the Musical.

Director Gary Abrahams and writer Jane Bodie premiered the two-hour musical in Melbourne last year and since its premiere, the creative team has fine-tuned it for a new season at Chapel off Chapel, Prahran which opened on May 3 and will run until May 20 before starting its Sydney season.

The story is told in flashback form by narrator Eva (played by Bridget Costello) as she sifts through letters, photos and memorabilia belonging to her parents, sculptor Karl Duldig (Anton Berezin) and artist Slawa Horowitz-Duldig (Tania de Jong).

Eva was born in 1938 in Vienna and when Austria was overrun by the Nazis, the family weighs up its options for survival.

The sight of Germans wearing swastika armbands brings a chill to the audience and ramps up the urgency facing all Jews.

Karl finds sanctuary in Switzerland with the help of friends on the international tennis circuit, and after several months Slawa and baby daughter Eva join him. Soon they have to find a new safe haven in Singapore, but that turns out to be short-lived and the family ends up as enemy aliens in Australia, interned at a camp in Tatura in north-east Victoria.

There are many subplots in the story, including how Slawa was forced to sell the patent for her invention, the compact folding umbrella, for a pittance to the Nazis, and how the artists’ collection of artworks and designer furniture was saved from the hands of the Nazis and sent to Slawa’s sister Rella (Michaela Burger) for safe-keeping in her home in Paris.

Anthony Barnhill composed the music, songs and lyrics for Driftwood – the Musical, with additional lyrics by Bodie and Tania de Jong, a soprano who is well-known for performing with her singing group Pot-Pourri. The songs cover a range of styles and emotions.

There’s a poignant rendition of the Hebrew prayer Avinu Malkeinu as well as the joyous Yiddish wedding song, Siman Tov, to celebrate Karl and Slawa’s wedding.

The three-member band comprising musical director Barnhill, violinist Roy Theaker and cellist Kalina Krusteva play from one side of the compact stage, adding to the intimate atmosphere. The small cast features seasoned performers with fine voices led by Berezin and Tania de Jong.

Despite the many dark aspects to the musical, created by Umbrella Productions, there are uplifting moments of joy as the family builds a new life in Melbourne.

Driftwood – the Musical is at Chapel off Chapel, Prahran until May 20. The Sydney season is at Glen Street Theatre from May 24-28, Riverside Parramatta from May 31-June 4 and Eternity Playhouse from June 7-18. Bookings:

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