Theatre Review: Driftwood the Musical presents a timeless story of love, courage and survival

  • Tony Ling
  • June 12, 2023
  • Comments Off on Theatre Review: Driftwood the Musical presents a timeless story of love, courage and survival

It’s an exciting time for the Australian arts when we get to see an ambitious, personal, and original Australian musical take the stage. Driftwood the Musical presents a captivating tale of hope and perseverance which delves into poignant themes involving the Holocaust, inter-generational trauma, sacrifices in times of war, and the perseverance of art.

Created, produced, and starring industry veteran Tania De Jong AM, the musical is based on her mother’s memoir, Driftwood – Escape and Survival through Art. With an impressive production team, including director Gary Abrahams, producer Craig Donnell, composer Anthony Barnhill, set designer Jacob Battista, sound designer Marcello Lo Ricco, and writer Jane Bodie, Driftwood seeks to take no quarter in being a heartwarming, heart wrenching, and thought-provoking musical experience.

It all starts with 18-year-old Eva, portrayed by Bridget Costello, as she uncovers her family’s history and relocation to Australia. Accompanied by her father Karl, (Anton Berezin) Eva embarks on a time-travelling journey that explores the highs and lows of her parents’ love story. This includes their family ties featuring her sister Rella, portrayed by Michaela Burger, and the French Man who came to Vienna to save a Jewish girl, played by Nelson Gardner (among a slew of other supporting parts). Through a leapfrog flashback narrative, the story examines the trials and tribulations of Eva’s Jewish parents during Germany’s antisemitic reign in 1930s. You then get to travel a bit of the world with them as they find a new home in Switzerland before venturing to Asia and Australia.

The cast’s performances radiate infectious energy, embracing the audience in joyous Jewish family culture and zeitgeist that can’t help but put a smile on your face. Tania De Jong AM, in her role as her own grandmother Slawa, delivers a powerhouse vocal performance, portraying an extraordinary woman striving to balance love, family, and livelihood amidst emotional vulnerability.

Bridget Costello’s performance is everything you would hope young Eva to be. Her vitality and youth works hand in hand with incredible vocals to deliver a loving daughter that you’re invested in.

Anton Berezin’s portrayal of Karl is marked by a determined and inspiring energy, complemented by subtle mannerisms and micro-expressions. Michaela Burger is outstanding as she captivates the audience with her mesmerizing performance as Rella, commanding every room she enters with her lush line deliveries that capture the burdened psyche of her character.

I think the biggest juggler of psychological hats would go to the multi-faceted performances of Nelson Gardner who plays (takes deep breath), Ignaz, Marcel, Gauleiter, Patent Attorney, a Nazi inspector and more. The seamlessness of how one individual transitions through so many varied roles with ease is remarkable. His diverse wardrobe and makeup changes certainly helps him carry it off.

Jacob Battista’s production design is something to behold, with a changing family home stage that reflects both harmony and strife as the story unfolds. The use of AV theatrics, particularly the projection of archival photos and documents on a parchment-style banner above the stage, adds depth and immersion to the family’s personal history.

Anthony Barnhill’s music in Driftwood is a seamless emotional vehicle of melody, showcasing the timeless principle of “less is more.” The musical is driven by a tight-knit trio of violin, cello, and keys, along with a brief drum kit backing track. The authentic Jewish music infuses the scenes with a distinct Middle Eastern flavour of rapid tempo, quarter tones, and vibrant melodies. The dancing choreography accompanying these tracks (courtesy of Sophie Loughran) is certainly noteworthy here.

At certain points in life, we all feel like something is missing. What is home? How does one persevere with both the physical and metaphysical obstacles of their creative craft? The creators of Driftwood skilfully capture the emotional weight of those dilemmas and then some. This tale holds no restraint in highlighting the raw family challenges of adapting to a sweeping historical backdrop of oppression and adversity. With an incredible vocal and melodic force to accompany such a story, this musical provides an intimate, personal, and righfully impactful portrayal of the erasure of Jewish history at a boots-on-the-ground interpersonal family scale. Its immersion of such themes would certainly echo the importance of appreciating what we often take for granted in our modern world today.


Driftwood is a production that deserves your attention. After touring through Melbourne and various other venues in Sydney, Driftwood can now be enjoyed at its final week in Darlinghurst Theatre’s Eternity Playhouse until this Sunday the 18th of June 2023.

For more information, head over to the Driftwood website and book your tickets at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company website here.

The reviewer attended this performance at the Eternity Playhouse of the Darlinghurst Theatre Company on 09/06/2023.

Tony Ling

Tony is a dynamic freelance writer, video editor, and photographer looking to make a difference! With a robust creative education from AFTRS and the Sydney Conservatorium, Tony's creative journey through Australia's premier film and music institutions has equipped him with a versatile range of multidisciplinary screen storytelling skills. His post-production expertise has contributed to acclaimed Australian shows like Bondi Rescue, The Australian Wars, and Home & Away, along with delivering and QC’ing content for streaming giants like Stan and Paramount+. Beyond broadcast, Tony crafts diverse content – from producing NSW Health cooking videos to capturing Sydney's live music scene. With years of experience writing food, film, and music reviews for established Aussie publications, he now thrives among the pop culture enthusiasts here at The AU Review. Currently an Assistant Editor & Media Operator at The Post Lounge, a prestigious Australian post-production facility at their Sydney office, Tony continues to advance his post production craft for TPL’s incredible feature film and television portfolio. Driven by an insatiable curiosity, Tony is always on the look out for a good story. Connect with him on Instagram @tonydalingling and be part of his creative journey of new discoveries!