Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Theatre of Dislocation & Exile

Kindertransport

Louche Theatre , Morlan Centre Aberystwyth , April-27-18
Kindertransport by Louche Theatre Theatre has a particular relationship with the Second World War. A welter of plays naturally ensued when theatres re-opened in peacetime. Hardly any are to be seen now, “Flare Path” an exception. New works of theatre with a wartime setting are at best occasional. Nicholas Hytner brought Joshua Sobol's “Ghetto” memorably to Britain. Mark Hayhurst had a success in 2014 with “Taken at Midnight”, a retelling of the case of Hans Litten. But Diane Samuels' “Kindertransport” from 1993 has been the most enduring by a long way. Louche Theatre's enterprising revival is an opportunity to see why.

“Kindertransport” has also since its first years become an accidental illustration of contrast between theatre and the plastic arts. A sculpture depicting a group of arriving children stands outside Liverpool Street Station. Its meaning is dependent on words, the names of the places of origin cut into the metal around the base: Hamburg, Dresden, Vienna. Theatre, unveiling across intervals of space and time, is able to convey complexity of emotion. In truth, to stand as an observer in 2018 is to see that the statue invites not a glance from the City commuters. A greater number of viewers are paying attention this season in West Wales to the fate of the child refugees than in London.

Diane Samuels' tribute-memory to this rare ennobling episode of a dark era is made with considerable skill. She opens with two mother-daughter pairs on stage in apposition. Nine year old Eva (Marta Langdon) is in Hamburg with mother Helga (Noemi Vox). In this climate of fear even the export of a mouth organ is a possible cause of hazard. In an England of decades later on Faith (Beth Harris), half-independent and half stay-at-homer, is with mother Evelyn (Jacqui Kenton). A series of scenes economically shows the crossing of the border, the arrival in England, the collection by a new mother, Lil (Lynne Baker).

A second departure, evacuation in the face of possible air attack, fails. Samuels cleverly elides her story with the legend of the medieval rat-catcher. Alex Gilbey never speaks but plays the role with a suitable malevolence. Evelyn remains seared by early experience; throughout her life uniforms, even in the guise of a traffic warden, unnerve.

The play's developing theme makes no compromise. Physical survival is no guarantor of psychic integration. The dislocated never lose that inner sense of difference. In this story a whim of wartime fate only deepens the fissure. Samuels' opening line, cleverly foreshadowing the action, speaks of abyss and chasm. Sam Parry's border official growls “we don't want you forgetting who you are.” That is to be Eva's fate, universal for all exiles. A name, even a birth date, can be amended but she can never cease to be what she once was. The tears of exile enter literature with the banishing of Ovid from Rome. “Our native soil” he wrote in the Tristia in the year 8 CE “never allows us to forget.”

“Kindertransport” last appeared in Aberystwyth in the Theatr Gwerin with a design of scale to overwhelm the actors. The Morlan space is used in an opposite way. Director Harry Durnall has arranged the seating to maximise the space. So, in the late encounters between the German mother and ceasing-to-be German daughter, the space speaks for the situation. The design comprises a small cluster of plain retro furniture. In this stripped-back design costume matters, the role of Caroline Clark crucial in catching the plainness of the time. The rat-catcher even has the detail of rat tails that dangle from his Pied Piper hat.

The early confusion in England necessitates that scenes be played out half in German. A lot of work has gone into Marta Langdon's enunciation and phrasing. Sabrina Fackler doubles the role of assistant stage manager with that of voice coach.

It is an uncommon play that has five roles of emotional substance for women. This is a vibrant revival where the performances achieve the poignancy that the play needs. Theatre's meanings change as eras change. The elder Evelyn sifts documents of old. She is fearful of destroying any “that show I have a right to be here.”

“Kindertransport” continues in Aberystwyth and plays Barmouth May 5th, Machynlleth, May 12th.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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