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Kindertransport review at Chickenshed, London – ‘powerful’

Mirrim Tyers-Vowles and Michelle Collins in Kindertransport at Chickenshed, London. Photo: Daniel Beacock Mirrim Tyers-Vowles and Michelle Collins in Kindertransport at Chickenshed, London. Photo: Daniel Beacock
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With this resonating and beautifully judged staging of Diane Samuels’ affecting 1992 Verity Bargate Award-winning drama, Lou Stein has perceptively solemnised his residency as artistic director at north London’s Chickenshed.

The former Gate Theatre founder’s first production since joining Chickenshed in April, Kindertransport tells the moving story of Eva, a Jewish child evacuated from Germany to England during the Second World War via the eponymous British rescue effort.

The traverse set is an astute choice of platform (literally, during scenes set in a rail station) for the tale of Eva’s tumultuous separation from her parents. With the audience facing each other across the raised stage, a suitable sense of dislocation and self-examination is conveyed as wartime scenes play out alongside action set years later, when the adult Eva’s daughter Faith unearths the truth of her mother’s background as she herself prepares to leave home.

The technical aspects superbly complement the continuing atmosphere of disquietude. Andrew Caddies’ judicious use of shadow and flitting light in the railway scenes conjures both a feeling of movement and of searchlights being sinisterly deployed. Danger is always lurking, as Dave Carey and Phil Haines’ sombre music underscores.

Playing the older, anglicised Eva, now called Evelyn, an assured Michelle Collins (reuniting with Stein, for whom she made her professional debut, aged 18, in the Gate’s The Crimson Island) gives a painfully convincing performance of a tightly controlled woman still haunted by a fear of losing everything.

But it is Hope Marks’ sensational portrayal of the uprooted young Eva, running from wild-eyed wonder to heart-wrenching despair, that forms the emotional epicentre of this unsettling production.

With Syrian refugees traversing the world in dispossessed desperation, Stein’s timely production echoes far beyond its immediate setting to strike a powerful affirmation of Chickenshed’s continuing engagement with the world as it is, here and now.

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Superb, timely production of a harrowing play about displacement underpinned by an astonishingly affecting performance from its young lead