Mona Golabek stars in this staggeringly moving account of her mother’s evacuation from Vienna via the Kindertransport, writes Fiona Leckerman.
Mona Golabek sits at the keys of the grand piano, her hands poised to play the tunes her mother taught her in The Pianist of Willesden Lane, showing at the St James Theatre.
Golabek is the daughter of Kindertransport survivor and the pianist of the title, Lisa Jura.
In this staggeringly moving account Golabek retells the story of her mother’s evacuation from Vienna via the Kindertransport and her subsequent life in London.
It’s a moving heart wrenching true story made even more astonishing by daughter playing mother and a beautiful tribute to the talent of Jura that Golabek is without a doubt a more than accomplished pianist, making it easy to imagine the impact her mother’s playing had.
The story is retold with sensitivity and interest. Golabek plays every part from her mother, to her grandparents to Sid Danzig, the uncle that was supposed to harbour his refugee niece, but leaves her at the platform of Liverpool Street station with only an apology and a bag of sweets.
Golabek tells of her mother’s determination to fulfil her parent’s wish that their daughter continue to practice and play the piano.
One of three daughters, Jura was chosen by her parents to fill the one ticket for the Kindertransport that her father had won gambling.
The farewell to her parents is re-enacted by Golabek with breathtaking emotional cadence.
Just when you think it’s not possible for a one-woman show to be engaging, Golabek draws you in, with photos of Jura’s parents projected on to the four large picture frames that are used to show both moving and still images.
Determined to play the piano, Jura finds herself in the care of Mrs Cohen at 243 Willesden Lane, finally able to practice while being in the company of other refuge children.
Here her story is representative of the many children sent to safety and what Jura finds at Willesden Lane is the feeling of camaraderie and family.
It would be churlish not to draw parallels to the current refugee crisis, which sadly proves despite time and differing circumstances, children are still suffering similar fates.
The Pianist of Willesden Lane is not simply a Kindertransport play nor a Holocaust reminder – although it touches on both – but instead the story of one talented child and the incredible sacrifice her parents made.
The Pianist of Willesden Lane is playing at St James Theatre, Palace Street, until 27 Feburary.