Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 30 March - 2 April 2011
by Diane Samuels
On the day that cuts to the arts hit the headlines, it was a refreshing delight to go to the Unicorn theatre in Abingdon and see an intriguing play in an improbable setting. While the big boys on the theatre circuit bewail their misfortune or, in some cases, celebrate their luck, this was a demonstration that amateur theatre is alive and kicking and relevant.
The award-winning play Kindertransport, by Diane Samuels, was inspired by the attempts of Jewish and other parents to get their children sent to safety outside Germany in 1938 and 1939, as the terrible reality of Hitler’s plans became apparent. It focuses on one such child, Eva, superbly played by 13-year-old Rosie Hunt, as she is reluctantly sent away to England by her mother. To cope with the trauma of her ordeal, she learns to suppress the memory of her childhood in Germany and her birth parents. (For her, the past is an abyss: “I want it never to have happened.”) It is when her daughter comes across relics of this past that Evelyn (as the grown up Eva calls herself) is forced to acknowledge the truth.
At a wider level the play is an exploration of what binds a mother and daughter (all five main characters are, significantly, women), and the irrevocable damage that forced parting can do, and perhaps too the terrible choices that people make in order to survive. As a piece of theatre it works very well. The lighting and staging in a confined space were excellent (my wife loved the train effects!), and the cast uniformly tackled the emotional story with great skill. The only male actor, Adam Blake, played four walk-on characters (plus the bogeyman figure of the rat catcher, seen only as a silhouette through a screen). His English organiser and postman were hilarious and tactless, and provided brief interludes in an otherwise traumatic story. But the story and the evening belonged to the five female actors.
So the moral is clear. Ignore the politicians. Ignore the headline grabbers. If you care about arts, get out there and support them in whatever way you can. Kindertransport is an excellent play, as is this production, and the setting of the theatre, in the medieval Abbey, is extraordinary. A brilliant way to spend an evening.
Peter Tickler - Daily Info
This play, atmospherically located at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon, dealt very sensitively with the emotive topic of the Kindertransport. To place this production into historical context, Kindertransport was a consequence of the Night of the Broken Glass or Kristallnacht as it is usually known. Between November 9th and 10th 1938 anti Jewish riots in Germany and Austria destroyed 191 Synagogues, 7500 Jewish owned shops were vandalised, their glass shop windows were smashed and goods were looted. Over 30,000 Jews were arrested and imprisoned. Jewish communities were made to pay for and undertake the repairs. The writing was on the wall for Jewish communities. Jewish parents were offered an escape route by the British government, for their children. Many took up this offer and with heavy hearts parted from their children, babies to age seventeen, allowing them to travel to safety. Ten thousand, mainly Jewish children came to Britain on Kindertransport.
Eva’s parents have decided this is the lifeline they must choose for their daughter. The stage is set for the train journey that the young Eva must take alone. Rosie Hunt’s portrayal of the seemingly abandoned, frightened Eva is very believable. Her German accent is a credit to Diarmaid Browne the German language coach. The only criticism is the pronunciation of the German for mother, which should be muti as in Sooty and not as in booty. Encountering many difficulties in her young life’s journey, difficulties such as the language barrier, fear of men in uniforms and missing her mother Helga, Eva grows in the loving foster home and the warm embrace of her loving foster mother Lil.
One of the most poignant parts of this play was when Eva’s mother comes to Manchester to reunite with her daughter. However the bond between Eva and Lil is very strong. So strong that it cannot be broken even by Eva’s German mother, who miraculously survived the horrors of the Holocaust. So tragically, the reunion is unsuccessful. This is one of the saddest legacies of the Kindertransport. Very few parents did survive the Holocaust and yet many were unable to embrace the loving relationships they previously had with their children. In many cases the very children whose memories of happier times kept their parents alive, and also knowing that their children were in safe hands.
As a grown woman, now called Evelyn and well played by Lynne Smith, we are given the opportunity to glimpse at the hidden depths and rarely spoken of tragedies of the Holocaust. Hiding her Jewish heritage from her daughter Faith and trying, not very successfully to hide her family history, a battle of huge emotional proportions ensues. Rightly Faith, believably played by Rachel Wood, wants to learn about her heritage. Understandably Evelyn has tried to hide this pain from her. Painfully the truth emerges.
Adam Blake valiantly played several parts well. Frightening as the Nazi official and the postman who thinks it funny to give a Nazi salute to Eva, not knowing, but maybe he did, how emotive this is for her.
The set construction was very imaginative and the audio visuals set the atmosphere of the time quite realistically. The direction by Liz Adams was very impressive bringing this evocative play into the time periods into which it was set. This could easily go to the West End!
Marcia Rubenstein Perkin - Imperial War Museum Fellow in Holocaust Education