Chichester's Holocaust commemoration goes to the House of Commons

Chichester continues its commemoration of the Holocaust with a double revival of last year's hugely-successful production of PUSH '“ A Holocaust Opera.

Children's from last year's cast
Children's from last year's cast

It was staged in Chichester Cathedral on January 27 last year and sold out within 48 hours of going on sale.

Now it is heading to Speaker’s House in the House of Commons for a private performance on January 28. Before that, it will be revived in the Assembly Room in Chichester on January 12, a performance which has already sold out.

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It all adds up to a remarkable story of success for the committee of Chichester Marks Holocaust Memorial Day which was founded by city councillors Clare Apel and (current mayor) Martyn Bell five years ago.

“It is a great honour for the committee, Chichester city and especially for the performers, directors and soloists of this amazing story,” Clare said.

PUSH explores themes of invasion, loss and the redeeming power of human kindness. Written by internationally-acclaimed composer Howard Moody, the opera is inspired by the true story of Simon Gronowski, who was pushed from a train bound for Auschwitz by his mother in 1943.

Simon’s life, in his own words, “is only miracles”...

Clare said: “Gillian Keegan, our MP, came to see it last year, and she found it incredibly moving. With this story, it is not just relevant to the Holocaust especially with all the anti-Semitism going on now and every other -ism that is happening. I said to Gillian that it should be shown in Parliament, and Gillian’s husband is a friend of the Speaker, John Bercow, and John Bercow said we should put it on in Speaker’s House.

“There are a number of Lords and MPs coming and people that are involved with the Holocaust story. It is such a powerful story. We are hoping that some MPs from the north will also be there and that the piece will travel up north, not necessarily in this production but someone else putting it on. It is such a powerful message. Simon Gronowski has got such a powerful belief in all the goodness in humanity.”

For last year’s production, Martyn and the team behind the opera brought together a large community choir of around 75 adults and 25 children. The adults came from a range of different singing backgrounds and societies including the Chichester Singers; the children came from a range of schools. There were three soloists from the University of Chichester, plus an orchestra from the university.

For the 2019 revivals, Clare anticipates there will be about 17 children and 33 adults, plus the three university soloists.

As Clare says, the story explores the best and worst in human nature, shifting in time to consider the plight of refugees, and cycles of war and suffering. Ultimately, the piece offers hope for our capacity for healing and forgiveness, even in the most challenging times.

The opera also draws on various accounts by families and individuals who have experienced refugee and prisoner status since the tyranny of William the Conqueror following the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to contemporary global events.