“All this joy comes from me” says the voice of Holocaust survivor and musician Haim Lipsky, as the lights fade and the play about his life story begins.
Five players enter the stage of the Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill, the underground shabby-chic space providing the perfect setting for Haim – In the Light of A Violin, a dark, claustrophobic narrative about how playing the violin saved Lipsky’s life.
As the extraordinarily talented violinist representing Haim, Yair Benaim, steps into a pool of light and meaningfully stares at the violin and bow held in his hands, it becomes this is going to be a very moving and symbolic retelling of Haim’s story.
Written and directed by Gerald Garutti after meeting Haim’s daughter and translated by playwright Christopher Hampton, Haim – In the Light of A Violin had the promise of greatness. With all plays that seek to reaffirm the events of the Holocaust and its survivors, it is difficult sometimes to be too critical, because it is above all vital these plays and stories are retold. This play, in French with English surtitles, has not decided whether it is just that, a play.
The cast are musicians, whose ability to translate feeling through music is unparalleled, but there is no drama, no set, barely a lighting cue and the only script is recited quite beautiful by the lovely Melanie Doutey, who does her best to breathe life into the words she has been given.
Garutti expressed how Haim Lipsky was reluctant to discuss with him what occurred while he was imprisoned in Auschwitz and it is this lack of detail that is dearly missed. The audience and beyond do need to know those details, however harrowing they must be, because the more we know the more it determines our resolve to never forget.
Haim’s story is largely based on his love of music, playing the violin and how his talent gave him the advantage and luck to survive the atrocities, all of which are represented faithfully, but it lacks a certain heart.
When compared to The Pianist of Willesden Green, a similar, musically-themed Holocaust play, it fails to connect in the same way. However, what it does achieve is the knowledge that beauty and art can still remain even in our darkest moments.