This is the second run of The Pianist of Willesden Lane at the St James Theatre. Tonight’s Gala performance was in aid of World Jewish Relief who are providing support for refugees in Greece and Turkey.
This play is a one-woman powerhouse telling the story of Lisa Jura, a young Jewish girl from Vienna who was put onto the Kindertransport across to London in 1938. It is performed by Mona Golabek, a pianist and Lisa Jura’s daughter. Adapted from Golabek’s book, ‘The Children of Willesden Lane’, Hershey Felder directs this combination of storytelling and classical music.
From beginning to end I was entranced. Golabek is a stunning pianist. She commands the Grand Steinway that dominates the stage and makes it sing like no other pianist I’ve heard. I could listen to her play for hours. The show includes a number of pieces of classical music, most notably extracts from Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, which the young Lisa Jura longs to play as her concert debut. There is also an extract from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, as well as some Debussy, Chopin and Bach. Each piece has been carefully selected as too complement the storytelling perfectly.
Golabek is a pianist, not a trained actress, and there are moments where this shows. However, as the story is so personal to her, and that fact that she is portraying her mother, this is soon forgotten and it becomes more about Mona telling us this very personal story. She becomes more comfortable with the characterisations of the different people Lisa meets as the show goes on. Without sounding cliché, you go on a real journey with her and by the end of the play, feel a very personal bond with her. In that sense, the intimacy of the St James is the perfect space for it.
Tonight’s Gala performance began with a speech from Linda Rosenblatt about World Jewish Relief. The charity brought Lisa Jura over to London in 1938 and is now helping in the biggest refugee crisis since World War 2. After the performance, Mona Golabek (who has been performing this show on and off since 2012) was genuinely overwhelmed by the full standing ovation. Tonight was particularly special with guests in the audience who were themselves brought over here in 1938 on the Kindertransport, just like Lisa Jura.
This show combines beautiful storytelling with magnificent piano performance. I urge everyone to go and see it. I know I will be making a return visit.
A captivating performance from Mona Golabek in a piece that is moving, engaging and musically beautiful. You can find out more about World Jewish Relief and their involvement with the show at www.worldjewishrelief.org/pianist.
Review by Elliott Wallis
Set in Vienna in 1938 and in London during the Blitz, The Pianist of Willesden Lane tells the true story of Lisa Jura, a young Jewish pianist who is dreaming about her concert debut at Vienna’s storied Musikverein concert hall. But with the issuing of new ordinances under the Nazi regime, everything for Lisa changes, except for her love of music and the pursuit of her dream – as she is torn from her family and sent onto the Kindertransport to London.
Featuring the music of Grieg, Beethoven, Debussy, Bach, Chopin and more, performed live on a Steinway concert piano, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is based on performer Mona Golabek’s family story.
The Pianist Of Willesden Lane – Gala Performance in aid of World Jewish Relief
Tuesday 13th September, 7pm
The Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF) – the precursor to World Jewish Relief – were fundamental in the funding and organisation of the Kindertransport, helping thousands of Jewish children to come to Britain during WW2, escaping Nazi persecution in their home countries. The Pianist of Willesden Lane is based on the true story of one of those children, Lisa Jura. The gala night will raise money for World Jewish Relief’s Refugee Crisis Appeal