Mona Golabek's mother Lisa was born in Vienna and dreamed of being a concert pianist but as the clouds of the second world war loomed she was ripped from the family and city she knew and the piano lessons she loved.
Herself a pianist, Mona tells her mother's story* of a lucky escape from Vienna on the Kindertransport to life in the blitz in London with other refugees. The narrative is beautifully interwoven with piano pieces performed by Mona that are either pertinent to the story or beautifully capture the moment.
As war stories go this is gently told; there are horrors but you feel that somehow you are protected from most of it. Instead the heart of the story is Lisa's love of playing and her determination not to let her mother down and carry on learning. The power of music to uplift is the plays soul.
Its story reflects more on the friendships rather than the loneliness and sorrow but that doesn't make those moments of revelation and tragedy any less powerful. It is populated with colourful characters many of whom have stories that I'm sure would make plays in their own right.
At the centre of the stage a concert Steinway sits on which all the pieces are performed. The music is haunting and evocative and with the help of actual photo's projected into large picture frames it transports you back to the time of the story. The combination of narrative and music almost making it a play-concert.
The welcome and treatment of immigrants makes it a pertinent piece today something that Mona subtly reflects on at the end when she finishes her mother's story. The Pianist of Willesden Lane runs at St James Theatre until Oct 22 and is one hour and forty minutes without an interval. I'm giving it four stars.
* This play is an adaptation of the book: The Children of Willesden Lane which is co-written by Mona Golabek.