This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport, the operation to get Jewish children out of Nazi Germany. But Diane Samuels’ play – first performed in 1993 – is also timely in the context of today’s refugee crisis, which again sees anguished parents sending fearful children into the unknown.
The action takes place across several time frames and is woven together and conflated with the story of the Ratcatcher of Hamelin. Fiona Buffini directs her revival with insight and sensitivity and Madeleine Girling’s versatile set design, with its black background and mountain of attic jumble, also brings clarity to the storytelling..
Jenny Walser plays the resilient child, Eva Schlesinger, sent to live in Manchester, with a quaintness that brings a lump to the throat. Two generations later, stormy accusations fly and mother-daughter relationships are still being damaged.
Cate Hamer gives a searing performance as the distressed Evelyn. You can see every muscle in her face working as she resists her angry daughter, Faith (Elena Breschi), desperate to know herself and her heritage. Denise Black lights up the stage as the no-nonsense Mancunian grandmother, and Rebecca D’Souza is compelling as the fragile German mother who paid the bitter price of separation.
The play raises numerous questions. How do you decide what’s best for your children? Should you preserve your religion at all costs? But the triumph of the writing, and of Buffini’s revival, is its warmth and humanity.