Kindertransport by Diane Samuels

Dates and Venue 28 February 15 March 2008 @ 8pm | Jericho Arts Centre

Director Michael Fera Sets Mimi Abrams Costumes Misha Martinot Lighting Melissa C. Powell Sound Sean Cummings Stage Manager Lois Dawson

Reviewer Jane Penistan

How can any parent foresee the future? The most parents can do for their children is to pursue what seems the best course at the time. Parents are not clairvoyant, they are human and as vulnerable as their offspring.

This is only too well borne out in Kindertransport. After Kristallnacht in Germany, in 1938, 9-year-old Evaís parents decide, after much soul-searching, that the best hope for the future of their only child is to accept the hospitality of a non-denominational charity in England, set up to take care of refugee children from Hitlerís persecution.

It was agreed that the parents would come and take their children home at the cessation of hostilities. The children were put in a sealed train to the coast and then by ship to England.

Here they were assigned to interim acting parents. This whole journey was terrifying for the children, who were unable to speak English, were in a strange land, and were already afraid of any uniformed figure. And worst of all, they were alone.

Eva (Anastasia Capt) was assigned to Lil (Nancy Bell), a kindly, motherly Mancunian. Inevitably there were misunderstandings between the two as Eva grew up in wartime England, but Lilís wisdom and kindness prevailed and Eva came to regard Lil as her mother. Soon after Evaís arrival all communication had ceased between Germany and England and the child began to forget her parents and her former life.

The war ended, and no word was heard of Evaís, now Evelynís, parents, but later her mother Helga (Fiona Martinelli) arrived as a widowed refugee from the horrors of a concentration camp. She had come to collect Eva and take her to relatives in America. But Eva was no longer a little German Jewish girl, but a rebellious English teenager, with ideas of her own.

Nothing would induce her to leave Manchester and Lil. Her parents had sent her away, Lil was now her mother. Heartbroken, alone in the world without husband, child, or hope, Helga left alone for the unknown. Evelyn is married and has a daughter, Faith (Miranda Duffy).

She discovers a Torah, a German childrenís book, old dolls and then finds her mother tearing up old letters. Faith is fascinated by these. She wants to know whence they came, and why she has not seen them before. What do they mean? Wise Lil persuades Evelyn to reveal to Faith the true origin of these mementoes.

After much reluctance and fear, Evelyn confesses to her origins, and Faith learns her family history. Winding his way through the performance is the German fairy-tale character Ratcatcher, a mythical sort of Pied Piper. The only man in the cast, Raphael Kempinsky, becomes the haunting flute player as well as a Nazi, an English policeman, and a railway official, and the postman.

Tragedy, comedy, and the endurance of the human spirit are all in this play as it unfolds the story of family relationships, the misunderstanding between parents and children, and the need for family roots.

Michael Fera has directed this very moving play with much sensitivity. The switching of time and place from one scene to another could have been confusing for the audience, but under his sure direction all was abundantly clear.

The roles were well defined by the playwright, the director and the very able cast. While there were heartbreaking moments in this production, it never became maudlin or sentimental.

The unspoken, but implied horror and terror of the time were not laboured, but deeply felt. This is an unusual play, and there is much to consider in this well directed, and well performed presentation.

© 2008 Jane Penistan