Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Review of Kindertransport at Derby Theatre

Kindertransport by Dianne Samuels (on tour)

Monday 27th January - Saturday 1st February at Derby Theatre.

Until 1989 the playwright Dianne Samuels confessed that she had never heard of Kindertransport and even the original Jewish children transported to England from 1938 onward had great emotional difficulties in openly discussing their experiences of being refugees from the Nazi regime. Such is the story of Eva in this heart breaking play. Whilst great hope for the safety of Jewish children was universally expected the uprooting of any child from their parents and their culture must be an extremely difficult thing for both parties. This must have been especially difficult for the parents and adult relatives trying to hide the raw possibility they would never see their children again, ever.

Historically, on December 2nd 1938 the first trainload of 196 children, most which were rescued from a torched Berlin orphanage and eventually landed at Harwich arrived distressed and practically homeless in England. Before war broke out they would be joined by over 9000 refugees ranging from toddlers to teenagers who would find new homes with relatives, foster parents, boarding schools and hostels all over the UK. When they were put on the trains in Germany, they and their parents were told not to show any emotion on penalty of being refused permission to leave. What a cruel regime! Most never saw their parents again and they had no idea what lay in store for themselves either. Imagine if you were that child or your children had to go through such a difficult emotional social transition. It doesn't bare thinking about and could be considered as incomprehensible in the extreme. How could you imagine the cruelties ahead when only ten years earlier everything seemed ok and cultures were existing side by side?

We still read about political refugees in the press and on various media today but the question is whether we have become socially hardened/selfish enough to ignore such people and their bravery and hopes or if that spirit of caring and supporting is still with us as a nation as we become a multi-national culture. It would be good to suppose that we, as a nation, still consider ourselves a welcoming culture and find ourselves beneficiaries of what the foreigners entering our lives can bring. Each day on the busses and in the streets we hear the tongues of peoples from Romania, from other countries where the political regime is as harsh or crushing to freedom as was that of the Nazis during the period in which people were forced to survive and be extraordinarily brave in their decisions regarding their loved ones. I do not intend this to be a glib, na├»ve overall comparison of refugee/downtrodden cultures then and now but a reference point for the hopeful nature in modern society and that could be of benefit to all if we only let it.

The play takes us through two time frames, that of Hamburg in the late 1930s - a violent time of anti-sematic feelings in Germanic Europe due to dark political propaganda and ignorance and the 1980s where a woman still suffers from the torments of her experiences back in her childhood in Jewish German culture and her decision to remain in the country of her adoption and re-design herself as British and totally abandon herself from the culture in which she was brought up until about the age of eleven.

This touring production of Kindertransport is totally compelling and the acting is top notch. The German accents are particularly well done by Emma Deegan as the mother Helga and Gabrielle Dempsey is astounding as young Eva. Her German language is excellent and carries through linguistically as convincing as any young German girl in distress. She completely inhabits her role and is especially convincing as the young girl growing as a teenager and losing her German accent and finding the flatter vowels of the Mancunian culture. The German clicks in again in times of high anxiety. A very well thought through performance.

Paula Wilcox as Lil gently commands the stage throughout. One turn of the head and the sudden development of a less sprightly walk and the toning of her voice to older, gruffer levels takes us from her younger days as Eva's saviour to the times as a family referee as events take place in the family attic that ensure the past will out and relationships change radically between the women. Janet Dibley is perfectly cast as the former Eva (now Anglicised as Evelyn) and retains the haughty pride that was prevalent in young Eva on her first encounters with British culture. Not quite ice maiden but full of locked in terror of self exposure and an ingrained compulsion to forget all of the past in her childhood city of Hamburg.

Paul Lancaster is terrifically menacing as the fictional 'ratcatcher' ( a haunting and frightening story book figure created to round up and to kill children) as well as being a gentle man at the UK borders, a German guard on the train bound for Holland, a postman without much sensitivity about the realities of Nazism and an out an out racist porter. Rosie Holden as the daughter Faith is very believable as the student about to leave home who discovers her mother's secrets by chance. A very competent and true performance with just the right amount of hysteria when needed. I liked that she couldn't quite pronounce the umlaut in the German for ratcatcher as well. An emotional and very honest performance, as were all.

Beautiful and subtle lighting and sound effects throughout on a muti-functional set with an open roof and the clouds of time scudding by throughout. Superbly directed by Andrew Hall.

The production has financial support from Stage One www.stageone.uk.com. Stage One is a company that cares about and supports the future livelihood of commercial theatre.

Catch it while you can. Terrifically moving theatre.

Derby Theatre. Booking 01332 593939.

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