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Last December I met Mohammed, a 13-year-old boy from Afghanistan who had travelled all the way from his home country to the French port city of Calais. Like many other refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing war, persecution and degrading living conditions, Mohammed’s hopes lied in Europe. As a cricket enthusiast his eyes were set in England. I couldn’t help but thinking of Mohammed’s mother and the heartbreaking decision of letting her son go in hope of a better future without knowing if they would ever meet again.

Kindertransport is the story of Eva Schlesinger, a German girl sent to England by her parents at the age of 10 after the Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom in which dozens of Jews were murdered, thousands more arrested and shops and synagogues burnt down in the course of one ill-fated night of November 1938. Like thousands of other Jewish and “non-Aryan” children, Eva was signed on the Kindertransport, a programme introduced by the British government of the time to allow 10,000 unaccompanied children to be given refuge in Britain. Eva’s mother was torn at the prospect of bidding farewell to her daughter but also knew that it was the best she could do for her in an increasingly dangerous Nazi Germany. Once in England Eva was entrusted to the foster care of the Miller family in Manchester. Simultaneously in the play we have present day Eva, now with the anglicised name of Evelyn, and her daughter clearing the house attic and finding in the process deeply buried and painful memories.

Although it’s been 25 years since Diane Samuel’s acclaimed play premiered in London, it is today that it feels more relevant than ever. This timely production is the result of a joint international effort between the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxemburg and Selladoor Productions, which once again demonstrates the benefits of collaboration between countries.

The cast is a five star one composed of five women and one versatile man. Suzan Sylvester as Evelyn and Jenny Lee as Lil Miller give outstanding and deeply engaging performances and Leila Schaus’s London debut as Eva is truly promising. Matthew Brown might be the only male element in the cast but has an ensemble of characters to compensate that. His touching performance as an English postman offers a tragicomic relief during one of the saddest moments of the play.

Anne Simon’s sensitive direction pays close attention to the interaction of past and present, creating a third intertwined dimension where the characters reflect and find some answers, and often more questions, to their life events. Light and music have been craftily added to the play and help us move towards a full immersive experience.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects of this play is the symbolism discreetly disguised behind objects and characters. The garret where the action takes place invokes Evelyn own personal attic, where memories that languished for years are suddenly awaken. The looming figure of the Ratcatcher and its association with Eva’s mother is both sad and frightful. Like in the Pied Piper of Hamelin, it’s the source of hope but also of deep fear if one isn’t ready to pay for his services.

Mohammed was just one of the hundreds of unaccompanied children roaming around the streets of Calais hoping to reach the UK one day. On 22 December, Abdullah Dilsouz, 15, was crushed to death by a refrigerator truck on a road outside the port. He was hoping to cross the French border and join his brother in London. The list goes on an on. Hopefully this beautiful production of Kinderstransport will make politicians and all of us realise that once again we need to open our borders for those who most need it.

Everything Theatre


Evelyn’s daughter Faith (Played by Hannah Bristow) is about to leave home, both mother and daughter are finding it hard to make a break. In the attic sorting out boxes, Faith finds a battered suitcase belonging to a young girl called Eva, a nine-year-old Jewish girl who has being evacuated from Nazi Germany. When Faith questions her mum she is shocked by the findings, how does the 9-year-old Eva relate to the grown up Evelyn?

Written by Diane Samuels’, the story of Kindertransport is based on the stories of around 10,000 Jewish children who were evacuated from Germany at the Beginning 2nd World war, to escape concentration camps. These children would travel with only a suitcase of clothes and an identity tag around their necks and it’s most likely that they would never see their parents again.

The play takes place across two different time frames, during and after the war, with Leila Schaus playing Eva as a child and Suzan Sylvester playing her as a grown up. It’s a play full of symbolism, this includes the future and past characters interacting with each other and the central theme of leaving your past behind you is often symbolized by the dismantling of the stage as Eva becomes Evelyn and dismantles her past.

In a week where we’ve had World Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday, it’s appropriate that the cast is mainly female. The only male actor is Matthew Brown who plays the Ratcatcher and hangs over the whole show, often appearing in shadows and hiding behind doors. This does a great job bringing a sense of fear and reminding the audience of the ongoing threat of the war lurking in the shadows, as well as the threat of forgetting who you are.

The play does a great job of using such a simple stage layout. Throughout the show the stage almost became a character in the show, at one point being converted into a train station and throughout the night being slowly dismantled.

Another theme shown through the night is the theme of parents doing right by their child, whether this is Helga, (Played by Catherine Janke) who sends her daughter away for safety, or Lil (Played by Jenny Lee) who takes Eva in and looks after her during these difficult times. The play also focuses on the experience that we all have, that of the inevitable separation between a child and parent, something that is still relevant for all of us today.

Go to the show, expecting an emotional night and lots of symbolism, that I’m still finding myself reflecting over now. The cast do a fantastic job of telling the story that very much needs to be told, a time when people had no choice but the flee their homes due to the oncoming threat of war and death.

Hornchurch Life


History is a plant with deep roots; it is impossible to eradicate it. Diane Samuels’ play Kindertransport made a deep impression on me when I saw it 25 years ago and this new production by Anne Simon, though very different, is also effective.

It’s an apparently simple story. Helga (Catherine Janke), a Jewish mother in Hamburg sends her daughter away just before 1939 blankets Europe in war’s lethal fog. The journey itself with its restrictions and policing guards is shown as frightening and Eva (Leila Schaus)’s arrival in England to be taken in by Lil (Jenny Lee) is also shown from the child’s point of view.

Haunting the action is the legend of the rat-catcher of Hamelin who led away all the town’s children in the 13th century, a much less benevolent figure than the pied piper of the sanitised version. Simon and designer Marie-Luce Theis conjure this nightmare figure (Matthew Brown) as a predatory mass of humps and tatters prowling around the periphery of the action.

This takes place on a central stage, basically the lumber room of the house now shared by Evelyn (Suzan Sylvester) and her about-to-leave-home daughter Faith (Hannah Bristow).  Faith is in two minds as to whether to go – though the house is already on the market – or to stay, which her mother finds both tiresome and unsettling.

Faith then starts looking into trunks and boxes, and the past suddenly enters the foreground. The three generations of women – Lil, Evelyn and Faith – each have to confront and come to terms with the past, the present and likely futures.

The performances are excellent with the contrasting facets of each woman’s characters sparking into focus as the drama unfolds. We’ve all been a frightened child and an adult doing the best that is possible in particular circumstances. Many of us have also been required to make life-changing decisions, often at very short notice.

For this production, the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch has joined with les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg in association with Selladoor Productions. The international tour reminds us that world changes have their own repeat cycle. Those refugee children of 80 years ago have their counterparts today.

Anne at the Theatre


While watching three generations of women on stage tell their story, I couldn’t help but think how timely the opening of Queen’s Theatre’s production of Kindertransport is for International Womens’ Day and Mother’s Day.

The production marks 80 years since the Kindertransport which saw thousands of Jewish children ferried from Austria and Germany to safety in the UK.

Kindertransport tells the story of Eva, a young girl who is forced to leave her German parents and travel to England where she is taken in by her foster mother, Lil.

The play flashes between Eva’s past as she struggles to make a new life for herself in Manchester, to moments in the present when Eva is now a mother to her younger daughter, Faith.

When Faith finds letters of her mother’s past in the attic, Eva is forced to revisit some painful memories.

There are heart-breaking moments on stage as we see the difficult choices Eva has to make, both as a young woman and later on in her life when she has new responsibilities as a mother.

Often, the four characters are on stage at the same time, so the audience can see the parallels and differences between the mother and daughter relationships in the war and in 1983.

In addition, the haunting story of the Ratcatcher, played by Matthew Brown, who comes for ungrateful children, adds to play’s themes of growing up and the relationships we form and lose in the process.

Having grown up in the Netherlands which was occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, I remember learning about the Kindertransport and events such as Kristallnacht - the Night of Broken Glass in Dutch and English.

So when I heard about Queen’s Theatre’s production of Kindertransport I was instantly intrigued.

The Second World was a major global event that affected people in many different countries around the world.

Kindertransport deftly takes its audience from Germany to London, then to Manchester.

Not only, are the settings international, but the actors too, as Queen’s Threatre co-produced the play with Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg.

Leila Schaus who plays Eva and Catherine Janke who plays her mother Helga, have backgrounds in Luxembourg.

This factor places more emphasis on the international nature of the story that is being told.

Schaus and Janke are joined by Hannah Bristow as Faith, Suzan Sylvester as Evelyn and Jenny Lee as Lil.

Written by Diane Samuels and directed by Anne Simon, Kindertransport is certainly not one to miss.

The show will be performed until March 24.

Romford Recorder


A fresh new production at the Queens Theatre, Hornchruch.  The story is written by Diane Samuels, tells the story of a personal account of Eva, just 9 years old and one of the first to leave her parents behind in Germany to embark on a journey alone to England just before the war breaks out.

I cannot imagine how impossible that was for her parents to want their child to have a chance to grown in a safer environment, however for Eva and many like her to be so young and to travel on the train alone, going so far with a number round your neck like a parcel on route.  The production captures the sensitivity and delivers a heart felt tale that I truly believe wakes up your senses to make you understand the pain.  The emotion was strong in the performances.

This is more than a historical drama it is an opportunity to feel one woman’s fight to be strong and adapt with her new life.  The play weaves in and out of different time periods and we explore her memories of her difficult childhood and watch this continue with her skeletons in her cupboard.

The cast were fantastic, Leila Schaus makes her debut to the UK in this production formerly from Luxembourg.  I thought she played the part well.  Suzan Sylvester played her grown up counter part Evelyn.  She has had much experience in the tv industry including Eastenders, Holby City and Casulty.  I loved the way the production weaved in and out of the different time periods.

The production explores the challenges faced by parents then and now and leaves plenty of room for you to think about how you may have dealt with things faced with extreme challenges of war.  I think a thought provoking drama is one that will impact you long  after you watch it.

The show being released just after international Women’s Day, brings home the relevance of the story.  The director Anne Simon did a smashing job of delivering the two different time frames and the cast timings were impeccable.

I really enjoyed this timeless show, it got me thinking about how hard the times were and how the events left scars for life but I also felt very proud of those that over come their personal challenges.

This is a truly inspirational show.

By Annette Flewitt

Bedrock FM

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