The Pianist of Willesden Lane, St James Theatre
Telling one story in thousands of those families torn apart by the Holocaust, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is a deeply moving account of a talented musician who survived against the odds. Lisa Jura is a young girl with an extraordinary gift living in 1930s Austria, but when her world is turned upside down by the Nazi invasion she is forced to separate from her family and flee to England.
In this searingly beautiful recital, her daughter Mona Golabek plays some of the world’s most loved piano music (Mozart, Bach, Beethoven et al) and re-tells Lisa’s story of living as a refugee at a hostel on Willesden Lane. Golabek is both a mesmerising storyteller and a hugely talented pianist, effortlessly moving through a vast range of pieces, styles and moods that form an evocative backdrop to the narrative.
As is to be expected, in many ways Lisa’s story is tragic. She never sees her parents again and it is only years later that she is reunited with her sisters who managed to survive the horrors of Auschwitz. However, due to Golabek’s nuanced characterisation and Hershey Felder’s detailed script, we are joyfully brought into the world of her life in London, the work she does, the catalogue of people that she meets and the friends she makes who encourage her to hold onto her dreams of being a professional musician.
We have a tangible and poignant link to the past as Golabek plays the music her mother taught her. It’s an uplifting story of extraordinary love and endurance told through timeless music that is by turns haunting and joyful, sobering and spellbinding.
The Pianist of Willesden Lane is on at St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street SW1E 5JA, until 27 February. Tickets £22.50-£40. Londonist saw this performance on a complimentary ticket.