Retelling story of the human spirit

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Santa’s story

DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman

ARTIST: Aviva Pelham

DESIGNER: Dicky Longhurst


MUSICIANS: Musical MD and arranger Matthew Reid (clarinet, sax and keyboards); Petri Salonen (violin), Catherine Walker (piano, accordion, guitar)

VENUE: Sandton’s Old Mutual Theatre on the Square

UNTIL: February 15


Telling stories moves up a notch or two when it’s this personal. Not much beats that of a daughter sharing her mother’s life with the world.

Adapted from a memoir captured by Aviva Pelham’s daughter Gabi, the Santa’s Story script was crafted by Janice Honeyman and Pelham and tells the story of a Jewish family from Santa’s point of view.

It’s quite a story.

Being born Jewish in Poland in the early part of the past century was not a gift. It meant harsh years of struggle and heart-wrenching pain and for the young Santa especially, many questions emerged regarding her faith and her God.

How can it not happen when your life is filled with tragedy from a young age? But that’s what these personal accounts do so poignantly. They show the resilience of people to overcome.

Pelham and her illustrious singing career credits that. And if you need further proof of how they win the day, the play is based on a memoir told by her mother to her daughter. It’s running right through the generations as the strength is passed on.

It’s a personal rather than a Holocaust story, but the cruelty of the time still resonates today in a world where wars are fought on many different fronts. What makes this even more memorable is Pelham’s versatile voice, the live musicians with instruments that capture the melancholy and melody of the arresting Jewish music and the mesmerising songs.

Honeyman has cleverly provided the audience not only with pretty moving pictures on two monitors (one on each side of the stage), but also the English translations which add depth and value to each song.

It is the music that provides the emotional heft and also gives Pelham the opportunity to show the range not only of her voice, but across genres. She’s perhaps less comfortable as an actress, yet her calmness in telling the story high- lights rather than diminishes the horrific life of the Jewish people living in Europe trying to flee from what they didn’t even understand at the time was certain death.

Santa’s Story is something especially made for a Jewish audience who will understand every nuance, but Pelham fans will be surprised by what she achieves with this performance.

Opening night was turned into something extraordinary when Santa Pelham (94) stepped on to stage at the conclusion of the performance and joined her daughter in song. What a gift and what a memory to Pelham and those present.

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