Chris Eldon Lee reviews “Kindertransport” which is touring to Clwyd Theatr Cymru until Saturday 22nd March 2014
It’s twenty years now since Diane Samuels wrote “Kindertransport” and it’s strange how historical drama can feel dated.
The play won awards in the early 1990s – but the long succession of war-related, anniversary-dated productions on stage, screen and TV ever since has overtaken it rather.
So much so, that the current production of “Kindertransport” had a limp and aimless feel to it last night, only to be saved by an outstanding performance by an understudy.
The play is round again because it’s the 75 anniversary of the escape of 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany. This is monumental material for the stage. But it seems to me that this is one incidence where the microcosm of one family’s story does not encompass the enormity of the whole. So the voice we hear is thin and muted, and no amount of hysterical shouting can make it any more powerful.
We get too caught up in the unlikely particulars of one fictional secret, which is discussed endlessly by the characters on stage without the audience being clearly told what the secret is. And, in the turmoil of war, it’s simply not terrible enough for the sudden outbreak of histrionics.
We’re in two attics simultaneously. One is in the Jewish quarter of Hamburg in 1939 and the other in leafy England 50 years later. In both cases the daughter is flying the nest. Eva is 10 and being sent away to safety by a mother who ‘lies’ about the family being reunited one day. The other, Evelyn, is grown and being pushed out into a flat of her own when she discovers her mother’s secret past. The two eras are ingeniously – if loosely – held together by a German children’s book, The Rat Catcher, who makes some genuinely shocking entries…in SAS and GPO uniforms.
The theatrical device of both families appearing in the same space, half a century apart, is a familiar one these days and it doesn’t take long to work out which characters appear in both stories. The play today offers few ‘new’ insights into the tortured times and the dialogue is laboured at times. So I suspect it’s merely the context that keeps the text firmly on the school curriculum.
What was memorable about last night was Alicia Ambrose-Bayly.
Stepping up from understudy to play little, and not-so-little Eva, she was mesmerising. But for her race, Eva would have been prime material for the Hitler Youth; but Alicia displayed her fear and utter distaste for the Nazis with complete conviction. Her encounter with the nasty sweetie-proffering, rat-catching, train guard had me up in my seat, wanting to intervene. She handled the German and Mancunian dialect superbly and her portrayal of a little girl lost – and later, a bigger girl lost for words – was immaculate.
Thanks to her, there was one strong central character with which to sympathise, in what seemed otherwise to be a distant experience.
Visit www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk for bookings & information about Clwyd Theatr Cymru.