DIANE Samuels’ play Kindertransport is a fictional account of the life of one Jewish girl sent from her affluent Hamburg home to England, where she was sponsored, and then adopted, by the kindly but ordinary Miller family.
Told in a number of flashbacks, it runs from 1939, when Eva was nine years old, to the early 1980s, by which time, with the Anglicised name of Evelyn, she now has a teenage daughter of her own with all the problems and stresses that implies.
It is on stage at the Warehouse Theatre until Saturday 15th February, performed by the Ilminster Entertainments Society and directed by Anna Bowerman.
It all starts as Helga tries to prepare her daughter to leave Germany, hiding her fears in fierceness and her jewels in the heels of the child’s shoes.
Cut to Faith, about to leave her mother Evelyn’s home (for the umpteenth time) and rent a flat with friends. Evelyn is trying to equip her with goods and chattels from the attic, but Faith is wavering. Enter Lil Miller, Faith’s granny. And as Evelyn leaves the room, Faith unearths letters and photographs of a foreign girl, and starts to ask her grandmother who she was and how long she stayed.
In this production, 13-year-old Iona Davis plays Eva/Evelyn from the age of nine to 17. It’s a remarkable performance, covering the gamut of emotions from terrified child to selfish and confused teenager, and given the need to speak in German and highly-accented English and poor Iona’s laryngitis. The bug was something she shared with her German mutti, Helga, whose final appearance was the emotional highpoint of the play.
The deeply conflicted Evelyn (Irene Glynn) has hidden her past, not only from her child, and her adoptive mother, but from herself.
She doesn’t want to be forced to confront reality, but daughter Faith (Harriett O’Grady) is taking no prisoners.
Lil, played by Maggie Rigby, has to span more than 40 years, from collecting the evacuated child from Manchester station in 1939 to visiting her daughter and granddaughter in the 1980s.
And Mick Glynn is all the men in the story, for the most part ignorant but not evil guards and officials, and the ghastly Ratcatcher of German legend, created to keep children disciplined.
It is an extraordinary play, deservedly winning awards for the author, and it is perennially relevant, as the world is constantly dealing with refugee children in one place or another, and this play shines the spotlight on how uprooting from their homelands inevitably affects the rest of their lives.