Review: Kindertransport (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jul 28 – Aug 20, 2017
Playwright: Diane Samuels
Director: Sandra Eldridge
Cast: Camilla Ah Kin, Annie Byron, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Sarah Greenwood, Emma Palmer, Christopher Tomkinson
Image by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
In 1938, an estimated ten thousand Jewish children from families in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, were moved to safety in the United Kingdom, before the commencement of the second World War. Diane Samuels’ Kindertransport is the fictional story of one such child, nine-year-old Eva who finds herself sent away from Hamburg. She ends up in Manchester, north of England, eventually changing her name to Evelyn. Decades later, we discover that she has all but forgotten her life as a Jewish child. To leave the past behind, Evelyn’s survival instincts have created a kind of amnesia, in order that she may make the most out of her present circumstances. The play is about the relationship between yesteryear and today, and how our histories are constantly under threat of obliteration.

There are many theatrical works about Jewish experiences during the Nazi era, and Kindertransport can often feel generic in its approach to telling its story. It is a narrative that has to be reinforced, because there are wounds yet to be healed, and antisemitic threats have yet to disappear. There may be nothing particularly unpredictable about the show, but its capacity for the expression of genuine emotions, is nonetheless valuable, in the ongoing process of catharsis for many who continue to be affected by events of the war.

Sandra Eldridge’s direction introduces a gentle touch, working on the tenderness between characters rather than on exploiting the more sentimental elements of the play. Sections can feel underwhelming, with dramatic tensions kept subdued, but a highlight occurs in a fantasy sequence where Evelyn confronts her mother, both speaking as adults, putting to words their respective struggles. Actors Camilla Ah Kin and Emma Palmer find remarkable chemistry in this moment, and the stage becomes briefly incandescent. Also noteworthy is set design by Imogen Ross, with a backdrop composed of open cardboard boxes, symbolising the movement of peoples and cultures, as well as the human need to bring illumination to our darker inner selves.

There is much to be sad about what Evelyn has had to endure, but it is her ability to emerge strong and flourished that should be celebrated. None of us should hope to reach our graves unscathed by the ravages of mortality, if we are to seek a life well lived. It may be considered unfortunate that some of us have had to abandon religion, tradition and culture in order to find a way forward, but survival is key, and we must attain it however possible.