Driftwood the Musical is a moving, enthralling story of a family surviving the ravages of war. It so timely, that it’s both poetical and painful.

This epic piece of theatre tells the incredible story of a Polish Jewish family’s survival and ultimate triumph over Nazi Germany.

Like the title of the musical, the family moves like driftwood from one country to another, buffeted by the sea of anti-Semitism generated during World War 2. They drift from Vienna, Austria, to Switzerland, to Singapore, and then further. Displaced and terrified.

Eventually Slava Horowitz-Duldig and her husband Karl Duldig wash up on the southern shores of Australia, in a small war camp at Tatura, Victoria (with their young daughter, Eva). Slawa’s sister, Rella escapes to Paris, France through marriage to a Frenchman Marcel Laisne.

This is indeed an epic story, a tale of individual deeds of heroism and the history of a nation. It’s a huge concept brought beautifully to the stage by the family’s descendants and the creative team of Umbrella Productions.

The stage craft is mesmerising. The music is sublime. The acting and singing are superlative.

This world premiere production is set to take the world by storm.

The story’s central thread is young Eva Duldig who is unearthing clues about the family history through letters, pictures and paper clippings found in old trunks.

She discovers that her talented mother invented and patented the folding umbrella in Vienna in 1929, a patent that she was forced to give up when she fled for her life in 1938. Eva’s mother and father were both artists, who met in art school. They lived a life of artistic comfort close to Slawa’s sister Rella. This life was shattered as the Nazis entered Austria.

And so the epic story unfolds through music composed by Anthony Barnhill and the words of playwright Jane Bodie. All of this has been done in collaboration with Slawa and Karl’s daughter, Eva de Jong, and grand-daughter Tania de Jong. Barnhill’s music is compelling, encapsulating the haunting beauty of the Jewish culture, while also revealing the emotions of this family torn apart in war.

Designer Jacob Battista’s stage is a pièce de résistance with a backdrop of cupboards, sculptures, artwork, old suitcases and art work that shapeshifts with ease. So much needs to be conveyed visually through this family’s journey across the world and this set transforms magically and seamlessly. This is also ably supported by a large, driftwood shaped screen, hanging above the stage and showing scenes from the Duldig’s life, as well as historical footage.

The music, words, stage setting and media screen create a powerful emotional backdrop for the ensemble of five actors to captivate the audience.

Sara Reed’s performance as young Eva is central to this production. She is, in essence, the narrator. It’s through Eva’s eyes that each phase of this family’s story is discovered. Reed is enchanting taking the audience with her through each discovery. Director Gary Abrahams has a created a magical thread to this production in the way that he has interwoven Reed’s stage movements as a central thread.

Anton Berezin is outstanding as Karl. Berezin portrays Karl as a man of strength, perseverance and integrity. It's through Karl that the tale of survival shines as Berezin portrays the artist's devotion to family, and determination to continue sculpting and contributing to the world, no matter how displaced he may feel.

Michaela Burger is a central tour-de-force as the sister Rella who stays in Europe and hides her family’s art work and furniture (the latter especially designed for the Duldigs in 1930 by Sigmund Jaray, a distinguished Austrian firm of furniture designers). Burger’s Rella is brave, compassionate and unbelievably generous to her family.

Troy Sussman takes on a variety of roles. Each time he transforms in to the appropriate character. It’s easy to quickly forget that it’s the same actor. And this says much about his talent.

Finally, real-life grand-daughter and opera singer, Tania de Jong takes on the role of Slawa. In her hands (or is it the script) Slawa is shrill, complaining and constantly frightened. It’s difficult to recognise the woman who is obviously so strongly loved by her daughter and grand-daughter as written in the production notes. Slawa did survive but it appears that she was extremely damaged, understandably, by her experiences. Perhaps through de Jong's role as Slawa, the audience experiences the emotional toll of the war.

And herein lies the rub. Is history repeating itself in Europe now? This timely production tells the story of one family in war-torn Europe reminding the world of the huge cost of war on individuals, and nations.

The Duldigs have left a legacy by surviving and thriving, and through their talented and artistic off-spring.

Eva de Jong-Duldig has written the story of her parent’s journey published in 2017. She has also transformed the home that they ultimately created in Burke Rd, Malvern East, Victoria. The home is now a public museum and art gallery, with a sculpture garden.

This story and stunningly-crafted musical deserves to tour the world as a beacon of hope, and a reminder to avoid history repeating itself.

As Eva de Jong-Dildig says: “art moves and inspires, breaks down barriers and builds bridges – a vital message for the 21st century”.

Event details

Umbrella Productions presents
Driftwood The Musical
by Jane Bodie

Director Gary Abrahams

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Dates: 18 – 28 May 2022
Tickets: $59 – $49
Bookings: 03 8290 7000 | chapeloffchapel.com.au

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