To coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, James Brining revives his production of David Greig’s 2001 short play, Doctor Korczak’s Example.
Brining’s revival takes place in the Playhouse’s new studio space, the Bramall Rock Void, a suitably intimate venue for this true story of Doctor Janusz Korczak, the Polish educator who set up an orphanage in the ghetto to protect Jewish children from the Nazis.
Rob Pickavance is kindly and avuncular as Korczak, but he takes a back seat to an impressive stage debut from Danny Sykes, who plays Adzio the fiery, yet sensitive, new arrival to the orphanage.
Gemma Barnett makes up the cast as Stephy, the orphanage worker who embarks on a tentative romance with Adzio, and the three take on multiple roles as this heartbreakingly sad, yet hopeful, tale unfolds.
The use of tiny, beautifully crafted mannequins to represent the characters is a poignant device, especially towards the end as Korczak packs his “children” away for the last time.
Rose Revitt’s set is sparse yet it beautifully pulls the audience into 1940s Warsaw, while David Shrubsole’s plaintive soundtrack adds to the melancholic tone.
While we know the ending is a tragic one, we’re left with a sense of optimism as we recall Korczak’s legacy. The lights fade to a reading of the children’s rights enshrined, thanks to Korczak, in the UN charter – a much-needed reminder that, no matter how dark things become, hope always remains.