Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Les Theatres de la Ville de Luxembourg and Selladoor
Opera House, Manchester
01 May 2018 to 05 May 2018
The Windrush scandal brings credibility to a plot point in Diane Samuels’s Kindertransport. A guilty secret is uncovered because a character is so afraid of deportation that she has retained crucial documents in order to prove her right of citizenship.
In the 1980s Evelyn (Suzan Sylvester) is mortified when her teenage daughter Faith (Hannah Bristow) accidently discovers documents that reveal the dark reasons why she has panic attacks on trains and fears figures of authority. Evelyn reluctantly discloses that she was one of the Jewish children who were allowed to escape Europe just before the start of the Second World War to reside in the UK. But there is one final secret that Evelyn is determined to conceal.
Appropriately for a play in which secrets are a vital ingredient Kindertransport wraps the story of displaced children and the theme of identity inside a family drama. Faith is horrified that her mother has concealed her true identity for so long and angry at her lack of trust while Evelyn is terrified that what she regards as an act of betrayal may be uncovered.
Director Anne Simon sets a murky mood of moral ambiguity in which such issues can arise. The lighting rarely rises above subdued so the action takes place in a shadowy environment. There is a hint of ghosts from the past haunting the central character as whistling in the background brings to mind the sound of trains and soldiers and a horrific creature from a childhood story creeps around the family home as a reminder of Evelyn’s guilt.
The skeletal set, showing the bare bones of an attic, by Marie-Luce Theis is surprisingly adaptable with trap doors opening to allow changes of scene. More significantly it allows for scenes in the present to take place at the same time as those in the past revealing the journey that the younger Evelyn (then called Eva) was forced to endure and the loss she suffered. In a fine touch the German accent of Leila Schaus, who plays Eva, gradually fades and her posture changes as she begins to take on the personality of Evelyn.
This is a subtle production but not a very dramatic one. Director Simon concentrates on making sure that the shifts between different places and time zones are clear and upon the emotional cost to Evelyn rather than the family as a whole. As a result the interaction between the characters is stiff and often feels like they are reciting lines of dialogue rather than actually conversing. A fine play, therefore, does not quite get the presentation that it deserves.
Reviewer: David Cunningham