‘KINDERTRANSPORT’ by Diane Samuels concerns the Jewish children who were rescued from persecution and brought to Britain before the Second World War.
There was a huge escalation of anti-semitic activity at the time in Europe, and rights and freedoms of Jews were being eroded.
After the killing of a German diplomat by a young Jew, a horrific set of Pogroms (meaning to wreak havoc) in Germany, giving Nazis an excuse to harass, persecute and eventually to attempt genocide.
Before the wholesale attempted destruction of a race, various groups of people and charities in Britain organised and raised funds to help unaccompanied children to come to Britain to escape the imminent carnage.
This play is about one of these ten thousand children.
The story is about Eva’s acceptance in England, and how she becomes a British citizen and has a family of her own. The piece spans nearly fifty years; from 1938 to the early 1980’s.
This is a very challenging play to stage. Not only must the emotions and issues be starkly and uncompromisingly portrayed, the hops and lurches between the different times could have been really difficult.
Not so here. Anna Bowerman’s direction made the changes slick and clear.
The same stage set is there throughout: a loft space in 1982 where much memorabilia of the previous fifty years has been stored; items, old letters; especially significant is the book ‘The Ratcatcher’, a pied piper story with great sinister undertones when applied to Nazi Germany.
The changes were suggested very skilfully by lighting, props, the slight adaptions to the set- what also immediately suggested the atmosphere was the haunting music by Marc Pearlston and his fellow musicians (echoes of Quartet for the End of Time by Messiaen?) Eva, the refugee, was played by Iona Davis- her performance was absolutey stunning.
She had laryngitis when I saw the show, but that added to the impression of her vulnerability. Moods and reactions were very well realised.
The accent and language issues were, again challenging, but Iona coped well and gave a riveting performance.
Maddie Lowe also gave a great performance as Helga, Iona’s mother. Most impressive was her transformation from a young story telling mother before their separation to the ghost of a figure – a concentration camp survivor who comes back to claim her daughter.
This was a hugely moving sequence. Eva, or Evelyn has become a British citizen and refuses her offer.
Her surrogate parent, Maggie Rigby as Lil as a no nonsense smoker, spanned the time line of the play with ease in her acting, using voice and movement in a subtle and appropriate way.
Harriet O’Grady, as Evelyn’s 18 year old daughter had a perfect resonance with the writers take on an 18’s teen: extreme mood swings between resentment and affection very well handled.
Irene Glynn as Evelyn had a very challenging almost schizophrenic task; to portray Eva decades on and to try to relate both to her surrogate mother and to her daughter.
This led to some real soul searching, and highly contradictory outbursts- she reflected Evelyn’s inner struggle with passion.
Mick Glynn played several roles and brought a singular identity to each one, the most compelling and chilling being the Ratcatcher, who haunted Eva and Evelyn.
The direction and the use of space was imaginative, and made what could have been a confusing series of sequences totally clear.
The costuming was very subtle and especially effective when calibrating Eva’s aging. The ebb and flow of tension and management of the cast was precise and purposeful.
I came away with the line I think from Lil... ’You can’t let people who hate you tell you what you are’ Wow. I wonder if Iain Duncan Smith will have heard that, and perhaps moderate his persecutions of the poor.
A chilling yet wonderful evening. I have to mention the snatches of music again and the astonishing acting of Iona Davis.