Cost of conflict to children

The refugee Eva (
Gabrielle Dempsey) with her rescuer, Lil (Maggie Steed)

Kindertransport

Malvern Theatres

*****

THE atrocities of the holocaust are well documented. Few of us can be unaware of Hitler’s purge of anti-semtism that ravaged Europe throughout the Second World War. What is less known is the story of the children.

In 1938, months before the outbreak of World War 2, train loads of Jewish and ‘ Non-Aryan’ children arrived in Britain from Germany.

The newly formed Inter-Aid Committee set out to rescue children from the increasing threat of Nazi control. Several countries were approached but only Britain agreed to take them in. Torn apart from parents they would probably never see again, some tried to forget the past and start afresh. Many are still alive to tell their extraordinary tale today.

Diane Samuels’ 1993 play touches movingly on the journey of a child taken suddenly from her mother and forced to embrace a new life in foreign climes, in this case, Manchester. The play offers more than that though.

While Samuels never strays from the poignancy and power of the central storyline, she cleverly interweaves it with parallel, more universal themes, easily accessible and immediately recognisable to an audience. The story of Eva, the little German girl packed away to England, is beautifully told but also serves as a metaphor for a wider theme; - a child separating from it’s mother and the emotional complexities inherent within that.

The exploration of memory is also touched on and asks a profound question. Should we block out painful memories of the past or should we hang on to them in order to grow and move forward? Samuels never preaches, only presents the questions for us all to consider.

TENSION AND PACE

Andrew Hall directs with precision and sensitivity. Moments of stillness and emotion are mixed with real tension and pace which drive the play along. Hall is clearly an Actor’s Director, placing huge emphasis on casting and performance. Characters are beautifully drawn and defined throughout. Speeches are conveyed with colour and clarity and moments of confrontation hit just the right note.

Added to the mix is a superbly evocative soundscape and a clever set by Juliet Shillingford. Downstage, rows of old boots and shoes taken from concentration camp victims serve as a chilling reminder of the world the children are leaving behind.

Gabrielle Dempsey shines as Eva, the girl forced to start a new life. She conveys a huge , emotional journey - both physically and emotionally - with real tenderness and insight.

Maggie Steed brings kindness and down to earth charm as Lil. She is an instinctive actress with a very real delivery, despite having to cope with a nasty cough of the night.

Janet Dibley brings impressive gravitas as Evelyn - a wonderfully assured and measured performance.

Paul Lancaster deals with an array of male characters well - his Ratcatcher giving a real sense of eerie menace.

Rosie Holden brings out the inquisitive nature of Faith strongly - her arguments with her mother containing real edge.

Emma Deacon , as Helga, gets it just right. Her scene with Eva at the end of the play is heartbreaking and superbly played by both actors.

At their best, plays can make moments in history come alive and serve to remind us of stories that need to be told. There is no better example than this. An important piece of theatre that will inspire and touch you. It may even surprise you. Catch it if you can

To 15-03-14 then tour continues.

Tom Roberts 

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