After a moment of contemplation, a violinist steps into the spotlight to play an aching melody. So begins the story of Haim Lipsky, a Polish-born Jewish boy who grew up in ‘Yiddishland’ – first in Lodz, then herded in the ghetto under Nazi occupation, before boarding the train to Auschwitz.
As raincoat-clad Melanie Doutey flits across the bare stage to tell his story, four musicians embody its players – in all senses. Lipsky’s recorded voice punctuates the action, sagely cutting through the intervening decades.
Initially the amplified narration seems booming and out of balance, but it’s a necessary technological concession when the musicians are in full flow. More problematically, occasional translations are missing from the surtitles, though the cast ably conveys the story.
Music is as central to Haim: In the Light of a Violin as to the life of its protagonist. It is his spiritual support and ultimate saviour, since he avoids execution by playing in the camp orchestra – as much a source of guilt as relief.
Pianist Dana Ciocarlie and violinist Yair Benaim add classical polish, gleefully joining in with raucous klezmer from accordionist Alexis Kune and clarinettist Samuel Maquin (Les Mentsh). From the carefree songs of pre-war childhood, the versatile ensemble progress to the chord-crashing trauma of the famine-stricken ghetto and the death camp’s wailing clarinet. Mendelssohn’s violin concerto (the work of a German Jewish composer) allows Benaim to demonstrate his considerable virtuosity at a particularly spellbinding moment.
Whether it’s a concert or a memory play, form is irrelevant: Haim’s emotional impact, its repudiation of inhumanity and its message of hope speak straight to the heart.