Progress Theatre - Kindertransport
27th October to 1st November 2008.
From the Newbury Weekly News.
A shocking reminder
Kindertransport, at Progress Theatre, Reading, from Monday, October 27 to Sunday, November 1
Kindertransport was a plan formed in 1938, in reaction to that year's Kristallnacht, to evacuate vulnerable children from Germany and Eastern Europe. Within the space of a year nearly 10,000 youngsters, most of them Jewish, had successfully made it to England. With such a serious subject based on a shameful period of history, the play could so easily be a litany of breast-beating and misery.
However, the writer Diane Samuels knows better, and throughout Kindertransport her masterful writing tenders an open discussion on how such catastrophic events could shape later generations.
The action centres on the attic of a suburban house that manages to both represent past and present. Evelyn, an obsessive brusque middle-aged housewife, and her daughter Faith are sorting through cardboard boxes and suitcases. It is clearly a highly-sensitive relationship and the air crackles with the animosity and deceit that will drive the narrative.
This teases with a structure that allows us to eavesdrop on past and present - 'English' Evelyn in the present and German Eva of the past - and in the process, stealthily exposes the source of tension.
Sadie James, as Eva, combines the incredulity and naivety expected of a child embarking on what she no doubt thinks is a great adventure. The young actor's portrayal prickles with electricity as her mother Helga (Laura Lewis) stoically delivers her to her unknown fate.
However good the performances may be throughout the entire play, it is the earlier scenes of mother and daughter that resonate, offering a satisfying solidity in contrast to the weaker present-day relationships of Lil (Liz Carroll), Evelyn (Heidi Ashton) and Faith (Steph Weller).
Although ostensibly a naturalistic production, surreal hints of menace were brought to the performance by Steve Webb, who filled the minor roles that, and most importantly, included the Rat Catcher. This bogeyman from folklore and children's literature stalks the stage threatening to tip the innocents into the abyss, a telling metaphor for the ensuing holocaust.
It is clear from the above that the action of the play demands the creation of different times and locations and sadly, Progress Theatre's small stage does not allow the action to be successfully convincing; however, the performers bravely tried to overcome the restriction and carry the weight of the play in their delivery.
Overall, it is a play that asks not for our sympathy but offers the audience a shocking and worthy reminder of past crimes of hate.