The relationship between mothers and daughters is frequently strained to the point of breaking. Diane Samuels’ powerful stage play, Kindertransport, which opened, without nearly enough advanced publicity, at Milton Keynes Theatre last night, exposes a family’s secrets and opens wounds best forgotten.
The deeply moving and thought provoking drama concentrates on three generations of a family and time shifts between 1938 Manchester and 1983.
Just before the outbreak of war charities worked together to move 10,000 Jewish children out of Germany. Although Kindertransport is a fictional story it is rooted in the thousands of stories that emerged from the war.
Nine-year-old Eva is wrenched from her loving family in Hamburg and sent by train, along with hundreds of others, to England where she is boarded with a lovely lady called Lil (Paula Wilcox).
Eva is terrified, unable to speak the language and obsessed with a scary tale of a Pied Piper creature who collected up all the children and took them away from their families.
Back in the ‘80s another young girl, Faith, is also about to move out of the family home. She’s is rummaging in her mother’s attic and comes across boxes of papers, books and toys. Opening up a Pandora’s Box she unearths the secrets of her taciturn mother’s traumatic past.
The action moves effortlessly between eras with Lil being a common link between the family’s womenfolk. Through the eyes of young Eva and her mother we experience the horrors of war and the seemingly everlasting fallout from that time.
TV stars Janet Dibley and Paula Wilcox play Evelyn, the complicated and psychologically scarred mother, and the compassionate Lil, respectively (although Paula looks much too young to be Evelyn’s “mother”) with the difficult role of young Eva handed to newcomer Gabrielle Dempsey. All three deliver heart-wrenching performances, particularly Dibley whose character is unable to come to terms with her past.
Paul Lancaster works hard in a series of cameos throughout, from the terrifying Ratcatcher, to a bullying German Guard, a postman, railway porter and evacuee official. I must say his alter ego, with rats’ tails for hair and scary talons for nails, would give me nightmares.
Samuels wrote Kindertransport in the early 1990s and it’s now been revived for a national tour by another face familiar to TV viewers. Its director is Andrew Hall, once the cheeky handsome son of Wendy Craig in the hit comedy Butterflies and, more recently, the cross dressing lover of Audrey in Corrie.
He’s done a tremendous job of producing a well-acted, thrilling drama from a complex and emotional story. It’s also refreshing to see a stage play that puts women at its heart. There’s way too few dramas out there for our talented actresses.
Kindertransport runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7652 or go online www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes