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FringeReview UK 2016

Haim: In the Light of a Violin

The Print Room/ C(h)aracteres Compagnie

Genre: Live Music, Musical Theatre, New Writing, Spoken Word, Theatre

Venue: The Print Room, at The Coronet Theatre Notting Hill London


Low Down

Gérald Garutti’s Haim: In the Light of a Violin, in a translation by Christopher Hampton, a concert-cum-narration hybrid recalling the recent Beckett Here All Night at the same venue, arrives for a short run at The Print Room in association with C(h)aracters Compagnie the Coronet Notting Hill.


The Print Room in association with C(h)aracteres Compagnie bring Gérald Garutti’s Haim: In the Light of a Violin, in a translation by Christopher Hampton, for a short run at the Coronet Notting Hill.


In short, and it runs a little over 90 minutes, it’s a mesmerising, heart-rending concert-cum-narration – in French with English surtitles translated by Hampton – of a child’s thrilled journey through violin lessons in Lodz, the second largest Polish city over a third of whose population was Jewish, to auditioning in Auschwitz, and beyond as told through his eyes.


Astonishingly Haim Lipsky is alive to record some of the comments that aren’t voiced by the beautifully spoken Mélanie Doutey, hypnotically watchable and listenable-to in herself, with a clarity of diction bespeaking how that’s valued in France where it slides over here.


Doutey’s narration is punctuated for long stretches by the experiences of Haim – whose name naturally means ‘life’ – by the music he learns after his parents buy at huge expense to themselves a mandolin for him, which he soon supersedes and by giving music lessons himself manages to buy an old violin. The shoemaker’s his first teacher, then a Christian pianist. Arthur Rubinstein is only a few blocks away.


We’re treated – and it might have ben helpful to have these lsite – to two of Wienawski’s violin and piano pieces, and the whole of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto first movement. The violin’s played with terrific panache by Yair Benaim, registering everything from folk fiddle to concert class Bronuslav Hubermann (the violinist Haim first sees at the Philharmonic). The pianist who also becomes Haim’s mother earlier, is Dana Ciocarle, a Rumanian whose use of the magnificent smokey Fazoli (the modern princess of pianos) doesn’t hold back on the pedal making the orchestra reel through it. She’s just recorded the complete piano music of Schumann, and her rendition here of fragments of Carnival can be heard as vamps of her real distinction. Chopin’s Nocturne Op 27/2 thrums through much alter to a far sadder refrain of knowledge. Bird-chipped discordant Messaien – from the Catalogue des Oiseaux – is unusually recruited for dramatic effect.


War comes in fact on this Fazoli, a terrific crump and the terrible fate of the 230,000 Jewish inhabitant so of Lodz as collaborators and others make life unbearable Haim survives through playing in an orchestra, but then decide – and this is curious – to join a train that happens to be bound to Auschwitz. A crucial narrational gap opens here, as do translations as a part of the performed script owns no English surtitle – though it’s perfectly comprehensible even for basic French users, mostly invoking names.


The finest most terrible of scenes is when Haim has to audition before a German officer to paly in the orchestra, which might save his life though it also ruins it, Doutey intones twice. He plays the Mendelsohn, that’s Jewish and he’s told to paly something German, the Bach Chaconne too gloomy, the opening to Bach’s Third partita, dance-like and he’s told to stop, but plays on.


The denouement of Haim’s surviving and escaping a death march, his being taken in by a German woman Maria who gives him a small violin and plays Chopin with him is overlaid with sadness. He meets his future wife, and riffs of Bernstein’s Wrong Note Rag suggest their departure for America only to e changed for Israel itself. Haim’s choice, to give up playing for sixty years though founding a musical dynasty, is sad and affirmative at the same time.


The audience at this performance were block-booked, nearly all French Jewish and joined in the singing and intoned parts of the chants wound round the clarinet Klezmer and accordion playing of Samuel Maquin and Alexis Kune, who accompany Benaim and Ciocarlie at punchy intervals throughout was overwhelming.


Gérald Garutti has written of how this narrative presented the greatest challenges he’s faced as a writer and indeed director there was a Q&A in French afterwards I didn’t feel qualified to attend, such was the velocity of speech. It’s difficult to know how this might be more effectively managed, though we’re at one remove necessarily from the appalling action, a stylized gauze from it – it’s not quite drama and nor should it be. Nor should it be wantonly visceral when its subject is life and art through music, so dispatched here to overcome these terrible events with affirmative, joy-filled performances such as we heard and saw. The superb ensemble recalls a recent production here of Beckett’s Here All Night, with its piano trio and chorus as well as actors. This is scarcely less fine and naturally infinitely more touching.