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stories from the violins of hope @ the bondi pavilion

From left – Laurence Coy, Kate. Bookalil, Barry French. ‘Stories From The Violins Of Hope’ Pic James Kilcin
Barry French, Laurence Coy and Sophie Gregg in ‘Stories From The Violins Of Hope’. Pic James Klicin
Barry French and Ben Adler in ‘Stories From The Violins Of Hope’. Pic James Klicin

I grew up in a family, together with my older brother and sister, where our parents were Holocaust survivors. My  mother was rescued from the clutches of the Nazis by the British government’s Kindertransport program, which saw Jewish children taken out of Germany and resettled in London. My father and his family managed to get out of Germany as a result of his mother bribing the Nazis.

I tell you this as a prelude to  telling you that as a child my father showed me a violin that he had kept from  that dark, terrible time. He said that it wasn’t a particularly  valuable violin but that it had great emotional value. I didn’t think much of it at the time. After seeing this play, I now see their is a much bigger picture to the violin my father stored for all those years.

As the play recounts many European families, especially of jewish descent, had at least one family member who played the violin. It was  just the way it was. Violins were very treasured.

The premise to the play is that violins have a life of their own, a powerful energy that survives even the cruelest of time, a beautiful instrument that people can always come back to.

The play, written by Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum and Ronda Spinak, is an adaptation of the critically acclaimed film of the same name. The script is based on the true story of the Weinstein, a Jewish family whose family business was to make and restore violins.  Moshe Weinstein tracked down many  of the violins which were saved during and after World War 2, and the collection became known as the Violins Of Hope.

After 50 years Amnon Weinstein, who at the start of the play acts as a narrator and observer of the action, takes over the family business and the collection. Through the play we find out some of the stories behind the rescued violins. Like the story of a violin that had been thrown out of a train heading to a concentration camp with the owner yelling out to the stranger, ‘I don’t want this where I am going’. This was a little ironical as often jews interned had a better chance of receiving food supplies, and of survival, if they could play music.

The staging of Moira Blumenthal’s production sees the family business workshop stage right, much of the action takes place in the middle of the stage with the violinist often playing behind, and situated stage left is the piano and pianist with the violinist sometimes playing beside her.

Veteran set designer Tom Bannerman’s set is very stylish and functional. Another very accomplished veteran Martin Kinnane lights the stage meticulously   Andrea Tan’s period costumes work well as does Aaron Robuck’s sound design.

The play features a quality cast. Barry French is great in the lynchpin role as Amnon Weinstein. The rest of the cast, Laurence Coy (mainly playing father Moshe), Kate Bookalil, Sophie Gregg and Lloyd Allison-Young, each do well playing multiple roles. ,Sometimes the action feels just a little too frenetic.

The music was curated by Dr Noreen Green who is also the pianist, with Leo Novikov, superb, on violin.

The turning point in the show is when Amnon starts giving out the violins that had been stored away, not to be touched, because they had been made in Germany..We learn of the names of some of the famous violinists who have played one of these ‘violins of hope’.

The show’s premise is fulfilled. It is as if violins have their own entity. They are instruments of magic. They shouldn’t be sitting idle and silent. They need to find a player and be played, no matter what the back story. They give hope, and in the hands of a master player, they create the most beautiful music.

Long live the violin and the resilience of the human spirit.

A Moira Blumenthal and Shalom Production, STORIES FROM THE VIOLINS OF HOPE is playing the Bondi Pavilion Theatre until June 18, 2023. Performances Wednesdays until Sundays.



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