Upstairs at the Gatehouse
24th June 2017
” Informative and enjoyable to watch, but lacking the pace, nuance and character development to match the brilliance of this writing”
World War II was and will always be one of Europe’s darkest history. For us today we see it as a distant past, something younger generations learn in school but are no longer connected with; unless one is Jewish or knows people still alive who were still alive around that period.
Kindertransport written by Diane Samuels in 1993 is a beautiful analysis and depiction of stories in World War II that we often don’t hear about. Until this play I had had no knowledge of the kindertransport programme. This programme saved Jewish children in Germany, allowing them to safely live in England under a foster carer but it was only the children that were allowed to live in the UK.
The play begins in present time where Faith is going through her Grandmother’s attic, clearing out her mother’s things. As the play develops, Faith begins discovering her family’s harrowing past that had been locked away and never spoken about. This play beautifully analyses a mother and daughter’s relationship and how painful some secrets once uncovered can be.
This production was rare, in that the writing shone more than the acting and direction. Diane’s poetic writing, is beautifully structured as we are taken from the present to moments in the past of a young Jewish German girl called Eva played by Katrin Kasper. Katrin’s performance of a 9, 15 and 17 year old was surprisingly believable. Admittedly, I tend to detest actors playing young children, but this young actress managed to convince me and drew me to her world. However, the character development for young Eva was heading towards the right direction, but I didn’t feel that Katrin managed to go all the way.
Unfortunately, this was a mishap that happened to all the characters in this piece. I found I wasn’t able to fully invest myself in the characters. Perhaps, it was partially because I knew the story to be too painful and thus didn’t want to have to go through that amount of sadness.
However, without ruining the plot, the biggest character development has to be of that of Evelyn’s. This character goes from being your typical jolly, well spoken and articulate mother to a withering mess. A task too big for Ruth Sullivan (who played Evelyn). Ruth didn’t bring the emotional vulnerability required for this character. In a monologue where she was completely broken and crying, I didn’t feel anything with her. I was left wanting more.
This piece needed to, at times, quicken its pace. It had stuck to the same pace and thus ruined the importance of some scenes. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that it was boring or too slow; on the contrary, the play whizzed through and I was engaged throughout, but particularly in the scenes where the characters were having an argument the pace of these scenes didn’t work for the writing and the situation and thus really didn’t do justice to the way the play written.
Amanda Waggott as Lil was great and I immediately fell in love with her. She played Lil as such a lovely woman that at times left me laughing a bit too loud. However, again the same issue arises with Amanda’s performance in that Lil was a one tone pony. Her character never really went any further than being a nice lady. Her performance lacked depth and believeability where we often found Lil delivering lines in the same way or holding herself in a very stereotypical old lady pose with her hands constantly resting on her hips as she hunched her back. I understand that this was a tool to demonstrate to the audience the difference between the older and younger Lil but unfortunately Amanda Waggott got too stuck with this physicality and thus lost the truth in her character.
This production of Kindertransport was unfortunately unmemorable. Angharad Ormond (the director) had the elements to create a beautiful piece with very interesting elements such as shadow imagery and live music. But even these elements lacked structure and at times didn’t bode well with the overall feel of the piece. Although, Paul Willcocks as the masked Postman/Guard/Officer and Organiser added a comedic energy and subtlety that was thoroughly enjoyable.
Overall, Kindertransport was informative and enjoyable to watch, but lacked the pace, nuance and character development to match the brilliance of this writing.
Reviewed by Daniel Correia
Production Photography by Robert Piwko
is at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 2nd July