We are living in changing times, where the future in this post Brexit and Trump world seems as uncertain as it has ever been. However, it is productions such as Kindertransport that shows us how relevant the past can still be in the present.
Diane Samuel’s play focusses on an organised effort by the then World Jewish Relief to place Jewish children from Germany and its neighbouring countries in Britain. More than 10,000 children were transported in what became known as Kindertransport (German for “children’s transport”). In Samuels play we are told the story of one such child and the ramifications that it brought.
It seems apt that in today’s climate that we are revisiting the idea of Kindertransport and Britain’s immigration policy. More so in the week that saw Amber Rudd resign as Home Secretary over her handling of the deportations of the Windrush generation. HMT Empire Windrush was in reality a German cruise ship that Britain acquired after the Second World War and became famous for bringing one of the first large groups of post-war West Indian immigrants to the United Kingdom. Both these show how pertinent these immigration policies were and whilst forgotten are still capable of causing an impact decades later.
That is the heart of Samuels’ story. Events of the past that continue to be played out. This current production by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Les Theatres de la Ville de Luxembourg is currently playing all week at the outlandishly avant garde Manchester Opera House. Directed by Anne Simon and designed by Marie-Luce Theis, this remains faithful to Samuels’ play, drawing on it’s strengths to create a slick and polished show.
The backbone is Samuels’ wonderfully written play and Simon lets it shine for all it’s worth. The story of Eva Schlesinger, the Jewish girl uprooted from her family is intertwined with the story of Evelyn, the woman she becomes. Weaved within this is fascinating timeline is the respective mother daughter relationships, between Eva and her adoptive Mother Lil, her real mother Helga, or between herself and her own daughter Faith.
Moreover, there is some striking symbolism too with the legendary fable of the Ratcatcher (the Pied Piper of Hamelin who’d stolen the town’s children) being prevalent throughout. Even more striking is the idea that all these events take place in the attic, alluding to the notion that we are just seeing Eva/Evelyn’s psyche on show.
The cast are all extraordinarily in their characters depiction. Suzan Sylvester as grown up Evelyn gives as assured display as does Catherine Janke as the tortured Helga. Jenny Lee is superb as the Mancunian matriarch Lil and Leila Schaus give a virtuoso performance as the girl Eva, laying bare the emotion of being separated from the family she loves to the struggles of finding herself immersed into a new one.
Verdict: Everything about this production is top notch. The acting, the writing, the direction, the set design. Add the gripping tense story and you have the makings of a wonderfully thought provoking play.