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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Kindertransport
Hampstead Theatre Spring 2007 and Tour

The 1939 evacuation of 10,000 Jewish children from Germany to foster homes in Britain is one of the very few unquestionably positive events of that dark era. But that does not make it inappropriate for Diane Samuels' 1993 play to look back at it and discover elements and after-effects worthy of questioning.

Most of those children would have died without the kindertransport, but what shape did their lives take? Would the somewhat Anglicised children be able to reconnect with any of their German families that survived the Holocaust? Would children who had undergone such a wrenching displacement so young ever be able to feel secure again? And how might these effects be carried on to another generation?

Samuels' imagining of one case cuts back and forth between a nine-year-old girl's arrival in England and her older self on the day her own grown daughter leaves home. What are sometimes frightening and sometimes comic culture-clash adventures for the child are shown to have shaped and scarred the adult woman who has done all she could to repress the actual memories.

The power of the piece lies in the historical story, and in Samuels' convincing psychological hypotheses. But the play itself is not particularly strong, with the characters forced by the needs of dramatic efficiency into near-stereotypes, and the main points rarely developed or explored beyond their initial statement.

This revival is by the touring company Shared Experience, known best for its imaginative dramatisations of classic novels, and fans of the company are likely to find this play lacking in the depth, texture and inventiveness usually associated with Shared Experience's work.

Indeed, the brief touches of typical company style - the imaginative use of a single set, or the hints of stylised choreography in the nightmarish bogeyman character who haunts the child and woman - seem to clash with the simpler style of the script.

Meanwhile, the script's own shifts in tone, from comic to nightmarish, from understated pain to soap-opera melodrama (particularly a climactic explosion by the adult woman that teeters on the embarrassing), repeatedly threaten the play's sustained tone and effect.

Kindertransport can be a moving and affecting experience, but its power lies in the raw material more than in the writing or staging

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Kindertransport - Hampstead 2007