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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Driftwood: The Musical (Chapel off Chapel) - 110 minutes, plus 20-minute interval

Driftwood: The Musical is a heart-wrenching and inspiring piece of musical theatre, reflecting a dark period of history that changed and destroyed the lives of millions.

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".

Photos by Cameron Grant, Parenthesy

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

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.

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 severe danger.

Slawa and Karl’s daughter, Eva (Sara Reed) acts as narrator.

Events begin to unfold as Eva celebrates her 18th birthday, but all her life she has noted an unexplained sadness about her parents.

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

Among the five performers, the other is Troy Sussman, who fills multiple roles, including Karl’s brother and Rella’s husband.

Driftwood: The Musical is a poignant, personal story, which highlights the impact of the Holocaust. I found it readily relatable.

The playwright is Jane Bodie, while the score by Antony Barnhill has been influenced by the music of the era and Jewish melodies, which would have been valued in the characters’ lives.

The way Driftwood has been written and sung, we get to really care about the individuals involved. I had tears running down my cheeks.

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 jagged parchment-like screen above the stage is a fine showcase for visuals.

Sound and lighting design enhance the experience.

Musically, Tania de Jong and Michaela Burger, in particular, have strong, rich and rounded voices. Overall, Troy Sussman was most impressive in his multitude of guises.

The three-piece band – on piano, violin and cello – was excellent.

My only reservation is that on occasions some of the acting looked artificial or forced. That was especially apparent early on, although I did note it in certain scenes thereafter too. I would have much preferred a more natural delivery style.

But that is not to take anything away from the importance or impact of the material, which director Gary Abrahams has packaged most effectively.

Plaudits too for the highly informative and insightful program, which I urge you to purchase.

Driftwood: The Musical is playing at Chapel off Chapel until 28th May, 2022.


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