Mov­ing­mem­oir hits a per­fect note

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THEATRE JOHN NATHAN

St James Theatre

AMER­I­CAN CON­CERT pi­anist Mona Go­labek’s solo show be­gins as it ends, with the Grieg Pi­ano con­certo in A mi­nor. Dur­ing the 90 min­utes in be­tween, Go­labek tells the story of her mother Lisa Jura, a Vi­en­nese pi­ano prodigy evac­u­ated to Lon­don on the Kin­der­trans­port at the age of 14. That Go­labek plays many other pieces with such agility and fi­nesse would be im­pres­sive enough. But that she does so while si­mul­ta­ne­ously per­form­ing the role of her teenage mother turns what might oth­er­wise be a mov­ing if un­re­mark­able mono­logue into some­thing quite mirac­u­lous.

True, Go­labek plays pi­ano bet­ter than she acts. But, as she plays with such mes­meris­ing skill, there is plenty of room below that stan­dard of mu­si­cian­ship for the act­ing to do jus­tice to her mother’s story. And jus­tice it does, at times very mov­ingly.

Lisa’s pi­ano lessons were held on the op­po­site side of the Danube from where she was raised by her mother and father, a tai­lor, in the Jewish quar­ter. Once over the river, “I was in the Vi­enna of spires and palaces… of Mozart and Schu­bert,” says Go­labek, the voice raised an oc­tave or so to sug­gest her mother’s youth.

The grand sweep of Lisa’s story will be fa­mil­iar to any­one who knows about the Kin­der­trans­port. But there is rare de­tail in the telling of this one.

When Lisa’s pi­ano teacher Pro­fes­sor Isserlis says that he will no longer be able to teach Jewish chil­dren, the mo­ment is weighed by Lisa’s mem­ory of the Ger­man sol­dier in the street below, and also the pro­fes­sor’s sim­ple con­fes­sion, “I am not a brave man.”

And when, now in Lon­don, Lisa finds work as a seam­stress mak­ing uni­forms, Go­labek de­scribes the day job while play­ing Bach, her fin­gers fly­ing across the key­board with the speed of a sewing-ma­chine nee­dle.

Lisa lived in a ram­bling Willes­den hos­tel for Jewish Kin­der run by the re­doubtable Mrs Co­hen. It was here that she found her first au­di­ence and the en­cour­age­ment to ap­ply to the Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic, where she won a schol­ar­ship and a fu­ture as a con­cert pi­anist that she handed down to her daugh­ter.

His­tory, fam­ily mem­oir and mu­sic are com­bined as seam­lessly as a segue. But it is Go­labek’s pi­ano play­ing, which be­gins and ends with the piece her mother per­formed at her con­cert de­but, that makes the evening soar. Mona Go­labek will per­form at Willes­den Green Li­brary on Sun­day at 3pm.

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