Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Emotionally dense drama

Kindertransport- Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Aberystwyth Arts Centre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , October 7, 2008
Kindertransport- Aberystwyth Arts Centre by Aberystwyth Arts Centre Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s choice of play for its second touring production could not be more different, nor more bracing, from its first, a version of “Great Expectations.” That production was exquisitely done but suffered, I thought, from its over-familiarity of plot. Diane Samuels’ “Kindertransport” by contrast illuminates a small, not widely known episode in the cataclysm of the history of the 1930's.

First produced in 1993 “Kindertransport” won two major awards that year, played both sides of the Atlantic and has been produced many times since. Its revival is a seventieth year commemoration of a remarkable but poignant event.

In Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial a single, worn child’s shoe stands for the one and a half million children from across Europe who were killed. Set against this the Kindertransport, the ten thousand children who were permitted to leave Germany and Austria in 1938, is a small but sobering miracle. Some groups, like the Quakers, come out of it well and some, like the US Congress, not well. It is easy with the hindsight of history to condemn; Diane Samuels' play wisely eschews polemic and the complexities of politics in favour of a depiction of loss across three generations and several decades.

The play opens with nine year old Eva being prepared by mother Helga for departure. She is being forced, too early, to learn how to thread a needle. A watch and jewels have been hidden in her heels. Ruth Hall's set incorporates two steeply inclined ceiling walls, an ingenious evocation of both openness and closure. For as the play illustrates this kind of survival is attained only at considerable psychological cost.

Structurally “Kindertransport” has a formal boldness. The scenes in which ejected little Eva travels to Britain are intercut with daughter Faith several decades on sorting through attic possessions. Over it all and Eva's life lurks the Rattenfaenger, a terrifying, child-pursuing character from a child's book, and a brilliant theatrical metaphor.

Without revealing the plot Eva's fate is to be divided between two allegiances, a childhood taken away which in turn overshadows her relationship with her own daughter. (The printed text of the play has more on Diane Samuels' research into the emotional turmoil suffered by the Kinder.)

In this unbearable pressure cooker of history the two fully English characters are less fully developed in the writing. Admirable as they are Gerri Smith and Abigail Hollick have less to work on in the parts of Lil and Faith. The weight of the play falls on German child and mother, played superbly by Sarah Savage and Isabel Scott Plummer. Their last scene together plays out the truth that survival in itself does not confer freedom. Early on, in a fitting metaphor, as a character says “A chipped glass is ruined forever.”

In this anniversary year of the Kindertransport this production is a salutary reminder that cruel acts of history have effects that live on and on. Also, that the judgements made both by and of parents are never easy and never simple.

On its second night this emotionally dense drama played to a large, young and appreciative audience. It is good to see that in Aberystwyth Wales is developing an embryonic fourth pole for ambitious mainstream drama production.

“Kindertransport” tours Cardiff, Newtown, Brecon, Swansea, Carnarfon and Mold throughout October.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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