Tag Archives: Diane Samuels

Kindertransport

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 10 March

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.

Four and a half-star rating.

Kindertransport runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 24 March with matinées on 15, 17, 22 and 24 March. It can also be seen at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich between 17 and 21 April.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Poppy+George

(reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Watford on 16 February)

Poppy+George? It sounds like an equation with a positive outcome. Poppy-George? That sounds altogether more negative. Poppy? George? This suggests two people each going on a separate path, that might – or might not – coincide. Diane Samuels’ latest play poses more questions than it offers solutions.

It’s 1919. The war to end all wars has ground to a formal halt, though its repercussions reverberate internationally. The location is London, in a tailoring-costumier workshop run by Smith (Jacob Krichefski), an emigré Russian Jew. He caters, among others, for female impersonator Tommy Jones (Mark Rice-Oxley) and society chauffeur George Sampson ((Rebecca Oldfield).

Fresh from the north of England with a determination to forge a new and proper life for herself comes Mary Louisa Wright (Nadia Clifford), a bright lass who prefers to be called Poppy. She learns to hold her own with both Smith and Jones – but with George? Their relationship, how it blossoms and how it withers, makes the drama.

You can’t fault the acting or the production values. Rice-Oxley takes you to the heart of music-hall as well as the fall-out from service in the trenches. Oldfield makes a marvellously androgynous George, well in with his employers and ambitious to become a racing driver. Krichefski convinces as the footloose man with too many pasts who still holds to the possibilities of the future – somewhere, somehow, sometime.

Clifford makes embryonic suffragette Poppy a girl who knows that her new path will probably be a rocky one (so different from the conventionality of her home background and the lifetime of service which is all it can offer). She wants honesty, not make-believe whether of the theatrical, fashion or intimate relationship types. There will be a price to pay, however.

Designer Ruari Murchinson has raked the stage steeply and produced a variety of costumes and fabric rolls to surround the actors. Director Jennie Darnell keeps the whole thing on the move in a valiant attempt to make this a play about human beings and not just types. Composer and sound designer Gwyneth Herbert adds a haunting accompaniment which echoes both the jollity and the sentimentality of popular music of the period.

Poppy+George runs at the Palace Theatre, Watford until 29 February with matinées on 18, 20, 25 and 27 February.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016