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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Driftwood The Musical at Chapel Off Chapel - 120 minutes, plus a 20-minute interval

Set against the backdrop of the Holocaust, Driftwood The Musical is a deeply moving tale of tribulation and triumph.

The starting point for creator Tania de Jong AM was her mother Eva de Jong-Duldig’s 2017 memoir "Driftwood – escape and survival through art".

The musical focuses on the true story of Eva’s mother (Tania’s grandmother), Slawa Horowitz-Duldig.

Photos by James Terry

The Horowitz and Duldig families moved from Poland to Vienna before WWI.

Slawa (Tania de Jong), who lived with and was very close to her sister Rella (Michaela Burger), married Karl (Anton Berezin).

Both Slawa and Karl were artists, while Rella was an actress.

Slawa had the brilliant idea to create and patent the foldable umbrella.

She appreciated fine design and filled their home with practical and beautiful furniture.

But with the rise of Hitler, their lives and those of their extended families were in peril.

Slawa and Karl’s daughter, Eva (Bridget Costello) acts as Driftwood’s narrator.

Events begin to unfold as Eva celebrates her 18th birthday.

All her life she has noted an unexplained sadness and secretiveness about her parents.

Then her father gifts her a treasure-trove of documents, letters, photos and more, which explain why.

Among the five performers is Nelson Gardner, who – among other roles – is cast as Karl’s brother, Ignaz and Rella’s husband, Marcel.

So many families were torn asunder or destroyed by the jackbooted Nazis. Accordingly, this personal story cuts to the quick.

Still, it remains one of hope and inspiration.

The playwright is Jane Bodie, while the score by Antony Barnhill has been influenced by the music of the era and Jewish melodies.

There is a great deal to Driftwood The Musical, so much in the lives of the protagonists.

While the first act establishes the relationships, I found the second particularly impactful, as the revelations keep on coming. Tears rolled down my cheeks.

For me, the pick of the performers is Michaela Burger, whose richness of tone is matched by her authenticity.

Tania de Jong’s operatic excellence is noteworthy throughout.

Anton Berezin’s constant and assured presence is a safe pair of hands.

Bridget Costello’s sweet, rounded vocals are ear pleasing.

Nelson Gardner is a jack of all trades, assuming numerous personas and, accordingly, adopting several accents.

The set and props (the set designer is Jacob Battista) are highly evocative.

Furniture and furnishings, along with personal items, establish the time frame. A large, jagged parchment-like screen above the stage is a fine showcase for visuals.

Sound and lighting design enhance the experience.

The three-piece band – comprised of piano, violin and cello – is first rate.

Direction is from Gary Abrahams – who has continued to successfully work on the production since its premiere last year – with choreography by Sophie Loughran.

The program, which is highly informative and insightful, is well worth purchasing.

Driftwood The Musical is playing at Chapel Off Chapel until 20th May, before moving to three venues in Sydney on 24th May.


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