It is exactly 80-years since the Kindertransport rescue operation, and perhaps one of the lesser told stories of the Second World War. However, it is equally as emotive as Anne Frank’s sad story, and is a true picture of how evil took a hand across Europe in those dark days of Nazi occupation, and how a bold effort to save lives, separated families – some of them forever.
Now a play Kindertransport, sensitively written by Diane Samuels (which was first performed in London in 1993), has come to the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch. Its opening night last Saturday timing very nicely with both International Women’s Day, and Mother’s Day…and it sports an almost all-female cast!
Though fictitious, the heart-wrenching story spanning several generations, of young German girl Eva Schlesinger (Leila Schaus), who is forced to leave her mother Helga (Catherine Janke) behind in her homeland, is probably not untrue, nor was uncommon.
In November 1938, it was the UK’s then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, who ordered the Kindertransport evacuation to the UK of Jewish children, after terrifying nights of violence against Jews across Germany and Austria.
Arriving in Manchester via London, Eva is taken in by a kindly Christian foster carer named Lil (Jenny Lee), but very soon kindness turns to indifference as Eva has to shape to fit her new surroundings, with language initially being the biggest hurdle. As hope that her mother Helga will eventually follow her to England slowly fades, Eva is forced to adopt many new values in order to survive in this ‘new land’. When Helga reappears years later, and with the offer of a new life with family in the USA, Eva finds herself torn, but really the two are poles apart. Eva is now naturalised as English, has adopted the name Evelyn, and is settled in Britain
The story is told with past and present timelines running parallel which is unusually interesting as it allows all the characters to be seen on stage at the same time, and on a minimalist set that represents an attic room. So while one gets instantly drawn into the plight of young Eva, we are equally challenged by another emotional situation, that of older – Evelyn (Suzan Sylvester) – who discovers her daughter Faith (Hannah Bristow) reading through a bundle of old letters that uncover the truth about her mother’s unspoken past. Then there is the ever-present Ratcatcher (Matthew Brown), a character who serves to remind us that all needy children should be grateful for what crumb of comfort that is offered them.
Two of the cast, Catherine Janke and Leila Schaus, both have their roots in Luxembourg, giving this play a really international flavour. Meanwhile, Anne Simon, has directed plays in Luxembourg, but then this is a co-production, and the show will tour there when it leaves UK shores. Bolstered by Olivier-Award winning Suzan Sylvester, best known for appearing in the BBC TV drama Cherished and crime thriller Murder on the Home Front, Kindertransport is another top quality production at the Queen’s that is as engaging as it is entertaining. Don’t miss it! 10/10.
Ros Connors – Gateway 97.8 Drivetime.
All images (c) Copyright Mark Sepple.
The Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Les Theatres de la Ville de Luxembourg in association with Sellador Productions Present ‘Kindertransport‘ written by Diane Samuels and directed by Anne Simon runs until 24th March.
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