Review – Kindertransport

KinderTransport by Diane Samuels – New Wolsey Theatre till Saturday 21st April  & touring

Samuels’ modern classic was written in 1993 but since then has been performed many many times and translated into a number of different languages. It’s about a subject that must never be forgotten – the Nazi attempt to obliterate a people group during the years 1936 – 1945, commonly known as the Holocaust – when millions of Jews lost their lives in concentration camps and ghettos.

‘Kindertransport’ focuses on the year just before the outbreak of World War Two and the UK ‘s successful attempt to get 10,000 Jewish children out of Germany before the curtain came down.

We have a very local link to this story in that the children arrived by boat train into Harwich and were held at a Dovercourt holiday camp before being transported to London and put with new foster families. Most never saw their parents again – and were often the only survivors of their families. But although safe, the traumatic events of their rescue and subsequent lives often took its toll – and many suffered rejection issues, displacement issues and identity crisis as they struggled to come to terms with what had happened to their parents and adapting to the new country they now were forced to call home.

‘Kindertransport’ tackles all of this by focusing on just one German girl – Eve – played with a sweet vulnerability by Leila Schaus – an only child from a comfortable background who is sent to live with Manchester widow Lil – a strong performance from Jenny Lee  – who in her no nonsense way helps Eva to come to terms with her new life but in the process obliterates her old one.

The play moves between 1939 and the present – as the now grown up Eva (Suzan Sylvester), who has re named herself Evelyn, struggles with her teenage daughter Faith’s (Hannah Bristow)  increasing interest in her past roots – and how going back will bring into sharp focus events and feelings Eva has tried over the years to bury.

Behind it all broods the grotesque figure of the Ratcatcher from Eve’s childhood book ‘The Pied Piper of Hamlin’ – a not too subtle allegory of the thousands of children who didn’t manage to escape and were taken away to be brutally  murdered in concentration camps.

The set is a brilliantly adaptable wooden frame that serves as Eve’s home in 1939 and the attic of her home in the present day as well as various train stations- the sections gradually being raised to form a number of different platforms.

The action got off to a rather slow start on Tuesday evening with hesitant performances from the cast –and it was disappointing not to see the figure of the Ratcatcher (Matthew Brown) used in a more obvious and sinister way to build up the tension of what was happening in Germany at the time. However once the actors got into their stride the performance became genuinely moving as the three women struggled to come to terms with their past actions and in parallel the young Eve and her mother Helga ( Claire Thill)  are faced with life changing decisions.

There is much said in this play about what makes us who we are – nurture or nature  – and our relationship to  our past. And the subject of the Holocaust is something that should always be kept in the public mind lest it happen again. This is defiantly a play worth seeing – and as the run goes on this production will only get better.

Suzanne Hawkes

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