BWW REVIEW: Identity, Heritage, and Family Are Challenged As History Is Unearthed KINDERTRANSPORT
Wednesday 2nd August 2017, 7:30pm Eternity Playhouse
Diane Samuels' heartbreaking fictional KINDERTRANSPORT, grounded in the real stories of Jewish children sent to the United Kingdom prior to the outbreak of WWII, exposes the lesser known victims of a war built on racism and the ongoing impact Kindertransport has had on families. Director Sandra Eldridge brings the multilayered story of three generations of women to the stage with a wonderful honesty, sensitivity and continued relevance.
Past and present sit side by side in KINDERTRANSPORT. Eva (Sarah Greenwood), is made to leave her parents and Hamburg in 1939 as part of the United Kingdom's program to take in and care for the Jewish children of Germany and Austria to protect them from the devastating raids on Jewish families that swept the region. Jump to the 1980's and Evelyn (Camilla Ah Kin), a very British mother in her sixties is rummaging through her attic for things for her 20 something daughter Faith's (Harriet Gordon-Anderson) new share house and after she's convinced Faith to stay home a little longer, she leaves Faith to reconnect with her old toys in storage. Its then that Faith discovers a box of documents, photographs and a children's book that she recognises, but this copy is in German. Whilst her grandmother Lil (Annie Byron) urges Faith to stop asking questions and put the box back here she found it, Faith can't help herself, leading to the two stories combining with explosive and heart-breaking consequences.
Designer Imogen Ross has created an impressive set to represent the packed memories, stored away in Evelyn's attic and also her mind. Walls of open cardboard boxes loom over the stage to help bring the stories together whilst the apse of the converted Tabernacle remains visible at the centre of the stage. Broken furniture, ranging from the heavier Germanic wardrobe and standard lamp to the more refinEd English stylings of vintage Burr Walnut dresser and wardrobe along with a large travelling trunk help define the space whilst leaving room for the stories to be woven together. Ross also uses the costuming to help differentiate between Evelyn's present in the 1980's and Eva's past including the changes in time in Eva's story from 9 year old in 1930 to 1945 and 1947.
As Evelyn, Camilla Ah Kin is powerful as the mother not wanting to let her child go and grow up, whilst also battling her own, as yet unexplained demons. She captures the repressed denial that has led to an obsessive need to clean and a paranoia of authorities that she fears may decide she cannot stay with her family. When confronted by Faith's questions, Ah Kin expresses Evelyn's spiral into denial with a raw honesty which, when paired with the Evelyn's ongoing fear of the demons from the storybooks of her childhood, leads to an emotion charged performance.
As Eva, Sarah Greenwood presents the innocence and the start of the fear that stays through the name change, adoption and naturalisation to become Evelyn. In addition to the accentEd English, Greenwood's physicality helps define Eva as different to her English guardian Mrs Miller. Whilst the physical height and age makes the initial understanding of Eva's age a bit difficult, Greenwood captures the naivety of the 9 year old child who has found herself in a strange country with people who don't understand her background including her religion. She presents Eva's fear with a heartbreaking truth and her later anger with a fire of the hurt rebellion of adolescence.
Lil Miller is the only character that moves between the two stories and Annie Byron handles this with an ease to ensure that there is a clear delineation between the 50 odd years difference in time. She uses her physicality from fit and able to old and slower to define the younger woman bringing Eva home from the station to the aging grandmother trying to talk Faith out of digging up the past. Her broad Manchester accent helps differentiate Mrs Miller from the timid Eva but it soften when she transitions to the aging Lil.
Through Harriet Gordon-Anderson's portrayal of Faith the challenge of whether the past belongs to the future is questioned. Gordon-Anderson conveys Faith's exasperation that Evelyn is unable to connect to the world, consumed in an unhealthy obsession with cleanliness and order and she ensures that Faith's belief that the mysterious box holds the key to her mother's issues and the resulting need to understand is presented with a concern. As Eva's mother Helga Schlesinger or Mutti as Eva calls her, Emma Palmer presents the care and belief that the young mother was doing what was best for her child in sending her away. She also captures the pain when Helga is so close to having a family again only to discover that Eva has forgotten her childhood and found a new life in England.
With the history of KINDERTRANSPORT is grounded in the real Kindertransport which resulted in many children becoming orphans in the United Kingdom whilst their parents were killed in the Holocaust, this work is moving in the truth behind it, amplified by Eldridge's staging of the work. Whilst holding a relevance in history and telling the stories of the Jewish survivors, this work holds a universality in the importance of knowing and acknowledging the past to understand a way forward for the future, whether it be on a family level or a wider community and society level.
28 July - 20 August 2017