We are herded to the stage as to the train, in pairs for an easier count. The walls of the back door theatre entrance reminded of a service entrance to a train station.
There we are met by the stage, divided into past and future to follow the two parts of the “Kindertransport”, a new take on Diane Samuels play presented by the new Chickenshed’s artistic director, Lou Stein.
The set allows the audience to be simultaneously both in the past and the present, to change seamlessly and to accent one another.
The past never goes away, but stays as an antithesis of the present. It repeats as two daughters in two timeframes are preparing to leave their family home, one in post-war times, on her own volition, the other in 1939, forced by the upcoming war.
The young girl Eva has to depart from her German parents to the UK as part of the Kindertransport. The departure is striking and poignant. It leaves the scars on Eva that never heal.
The past is heavy for Evelyn, but it is something she cannot leave. It comes back now as a time capsule when Faith, her daughter discovers and brutally unveils a box of Evelyn’s long-suppressed memories.
As a result of this heavy past, women characters find themselves in an enclosed, stiff environment of the attic. Between them there is hostile and heavy dynamics, no-one can truly connect. They never physically touch each other, really look each other in the eye. Robust delivery by the cast who conveys a never-ending tension. The acting is consistent end evocative. Eva, played by Hope Marks and Evelyn, by Michelle Collins leave a long-lasting, memorable impression.
The outside world is taken out of the equation, but it is there, all too close, as hinted by a postman, a policeman, a border control officer. They are ready to turn into a Ratcatcher – a mystical creature from the German literature ready to take a child into the abyss.
The abyss is memory, this bittersweet thread that ties us like a balloon, both to give shape and to hold to the overbearing hand. We do not choose, if we want it or not. The pressure of expectations that her parents have put on her was too much for little Eva in her circumstances, so the adult Evelyn went into the opposite extremity, withholding her past from her daughter altogether.
And the same time the abyss is us, the beholder, the silent benches of spectators, – the hypothetical outside world, sitting in the real darkness of the set, ready to judge.
There is no real resolution the Evelyn. As much as she has suffered, there is no redemption for her. She dwells in the world where the Ratcatcher is after her. She still has to relive her nightmares all the time.
The real resolution comes for her daughter. A new generation is a new hope.
She leaves her family home at her own whim, not by necessity. She does not have this baggage of the parent’s pressure. Not abused by the past, for her this experience is fun to engage with. She can research her family tree, can visit her relatives. On a date, she can say casually “Oh, by the way my mum was part of the Kindertransport children. I am technically half German Jew”.
Perhaps, all these decades we’ve spent on reiterating acceptance and tolerance of one another has actually resulted in some positive change?
Overall, a very good emotional show, which is relevant on a human and social level, “Kindertransport” is on at Chickenshed until 22 of October. Some shows include special events and you can get tickets here.
Photos are courtesy of Chickenshed.