Powerful, poignant and deeply moving, KINDERTRANSPORT is an emotionally charged piece of drama about a vanished moment in history

Catherine Janke & Leila Schaus in KINDERTRANSPORT

Catherine Janke & Leila Schaus in KINDERTRANSPORT. Photo Credit: Mark Sepple

Powerful, poignant and deeply moving, KINDERTRANSPORT is an emotionally charged piece of drama about a vanished moment in history

Diane Samuels’ haunting play KINDERTRANSPORT may have been written 25 years ago but it has never been more relevant than it is today. As Syria reels from a suspected chemical attack and desperate refugees flee their homelands, Samuels’ play about the evacuation of Jewish children from Nazi Germany feels hauntingly resonate, as it sets out on its special anniversary tour.

Inspired by real-life stories of Jewish refugee children, KINDERTRANSPORT tells the story of nine-year-old Eva who is forced onto a train by her desperate mother in order to escape the threat of World War II. Arriving at Liverpool Street Station tagged like a piece of luggage, Eva is handed over to strangers, Mr and Mrs Miller, who take her in during the conflict.

Fast forward forty years later to Manchester 1980 where Eva – now named Evelyn – prepares to say goodbye to her daughter Faith as she leaves the family home for the first time. But when Faith discovers a box of papers in the attic uncovering her mother’s past, Evelyn is forced to confront the demons of her past and the previous life she tried to leave behind.

Matthew Brown & Leila Schaus in KINDERTRANSPORT.

Matthew Brown & Leila Schaus in KINDERTRANSPORT. Photo Credit Mark Sepple

Powerful, poignant and deeply moving, KINDERTRANSPORT is an emotionally charged, powerful piece of drama about one woman’s struggle to come to terms with her past. Director Anne Simon handles Samuels’ powerful and painfully relatable script well, presenting the action with imagination and authority, as the story weaves in and out between the two time periods on Marie-Luce Theis’ spacious, wooden-beamed set.

Suzan Sylvester – who originally played the role of Faith in the play’s 1993 debut – delivers an impressive performance as Evelyn, wallowing in misery as she tries to come to terms with the demons of her past. Hannah Bristow is equally strong as self-assured modern teenager Faith. Jenny Lee is equal parts kindliness and no-nonsense practicality as adoptive mother Lil, but it is Leila Schaus who steals the show as Eva, delivering a compelling performance as the young evacuee torn away from her family.

Jenny Lee & Leila Schaus in KINDERTRANSPORT

Jenny Lee & Leila Schaus in KINDERTRANSPORT. Photo Credit Mark Sepple

Yet despite its strong international cast, a couple of creative elements don’t work as well as expected. Matthew Brown delivers a strong performance as the creeping and haunting figure of the Ratcatcher but the director’s decision to have him lurking in the sidelines means he isn’t always seen by the audience and his presence is, therefore, less effective.

The same can also be said for Nic Farman’s lighting design, which while atmospheric, is occasionally too dark, leaving many of the actors in shadow and the audience struggling to see some of the action on stage.

That said, this is a deeply moving play which sensitively explores the psychological effects of war, particularly survivors’ guilt and a timely modern classic about a vanished moment in history.

(3.5 / 5)

KINDERTRANSPORT runs at the Opera House, Manchester until 5 May 2018.

Donna is the Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she is a digital marketing whizz, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage, The Public Reviews and ScreenRelish. Loves Shakespeare, prosecco and Formula 1