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Review - Driftwood The Musical: wonderful entertainment for all ages

By Paul Kiely

Driftwood The Musical

Based on Eva de Jong-Duldig’s memoir

Based on an original stage play by Jane Bodie

Music and Lyrics by Anthony Barnhill

Directed by Gary Abrahams

An Umbrella Foundation Presentation

Riverside Theatre

353B Church Street


Season: 31 May – 4 June 2023 and other venues.

Duration: 140 minutes (with interval)

A word heard several times in Driftwood The Musical is ‘Hakoah’. From Hebrew, it means ‘Strength’. And in one word it describes this production so well.

The collaboration between writer, composer, director, cast, orchestra and crew is impressive. Their combined efforts elevate Driftwood The Musical to become one of the best Australian theatrical events in recent times.

The story is born from a dark time in Europe. Slawa and Karl Duldig are enjoying their life in late 1920’s Vienna. Their love of art and music is only matched by Karl’s talent in tennis. Karl will later say that “A tennis match saved me…saved all of us”.

Slawa’s talents stretch beyond painting. Her business acumen is impressive, having designed and produced a foldable umbrella she calls ‘the flirt’. Besides the obvious connotation, Slawa prefers ‘flirts’ other meaning of ‘when a bird opens its wings quickly’. Ironically, Slawa and Karl will need to ‘flirt’ judiciously as the Nazi occupation of Austria forces them to seek refuge, and ultimately takes them, in 1940, to a far off place called…Melbourne.

During these difficult times they have a daughter Eva.

It is Eva de Jong-Duldig’s memoir called ‘Driftwood – Escape and Survival Through Art’ that inspired Jane Bodie to write the stage play. Then, with Anthony Barnhill’s music and lyrics, the musical version was created.

Gary Abrahams Direction is masterfully carried out, working in tandem with choreographer Sophie Loughran to create seamless transitions from song to script.

Ever present on stage is a magnificent chamber orchestra with piano, violin and cello. Music Director was David Gardos.

Casting was another perfect ingredient to this show’s success. Playing Eva was Bridget Costello. The story is told through Eva’s eyes, recalling her childhood memories and experiences as well as revelations from hundreds of personal letters between her parents and relatives. Bridget wonderfully portrayed the surprise, excitement and pride that Eva felt during her journey of discovery. At one point she says “Who am I now; now that I know” (what her parents had gone through).

With an intimate family connection, Tania de Jong plays her real-life grandmother Slawa. We feel Tania’s emotions with every word as she connects with her family’s past.

In the role of Karl is Anton Berezin. Anton gave ‘hakoah’ to this character by capturing the common sense, realistic and empathetic nature of Karl.

Michaela Burger as Rella and Nelson Gardner as Ignaz gave superb performances.

There is a great rapport between the cast as they navigate through the laughs, tears, sorrow and triumph that this story presents them.

The staging (Jacob Battista) of Driftwood The Musical is itself, a work of art! Using the umbrella theme, the stage fans out from centre like an open brollie. The backdrop features the Duldig’s furniture designs with bookcases, nooks and cupboard doors that serve as additional entry and exit points.

With clever lighting (Harrie Hogan) and sound effects (Marcello Lo Ricco), we get transformed during the performance from loungeroom to train station to Wimbledon centre-court and internment camp, to name a few.

Atop the stage is a huge driftwood cut-out onto which various illuminations can be projected. Use of WWII newsreels, articles and maps assist in setting location and time changes throughout the story.

The costumes (Kim Bishop) are equally impressive, capturing the elegance and style of the 1930’s and the bright colours of the 1960’s.

Driftwood The Musical is wonderful entertainment for all ages. Its inspiring themes will resonate with many families.

A tale begun in Europe and still evolving, but we’ll claim this one for Australia!


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