Westacre Theatre near Swaffham play portrays Ukrainian theme of refugees with Kindertransport
When Westacre Theatre began planning its next in-house production, little could anyone have foreseen that during the final stages of their rehearsals every news bulletin would be covering in graphic detail the tragedy of families being split up and becoming helpless refugees in Europe.
Kindertransport, beginning nexr Thursday (March 10), is the seminal play by Diane Samuels wrestling with the short and long term consequences of exactly that.
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, nine year-old Eva had waved goodbye to her mother Helga and finds herself alone on the platform at Liverpool Street Station. Uprooted from Germany, she cannot speak any English and is badly confused. Tagged like a piece of luggage, she is handed over to strangers.
Faced with a completely different culture and a whole range of human responses, it was the total selflessness by thousands of ordinary British people that shone through when faced with the needs of a helpless child.
Westacre tells the heart-breaking and heart-warming story about one of the 10,000 Jewish children abruptly separated from their parents in the nine months leading up to the start of war. The last train-load left Nazi Germany only two days before the deadline.
By covering the cost of their initial resettlement, a coalition of Jewish groups, Quakers and others had successfully appealed to Parliament to accept these child refugees from age 5 to 17, when many other countries declined to do so. The Refugee Children’s Movement organised the billeting across Britain.
All the children hoped that the separation from their families would be brief but for most it was a final farewell. Such was the strength of feeling and the level of violence against Jews in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia that the children were not allowed to depart through German ports for fear they might contaminate the harbour. Instead they were sent via Holland where committees of Dutch volunteers provided refreshments and put them on ferries to Harwich.
Samuels’ play has become a deeply-moving modern classic, being performed worldwide, winning many awards and is widely studied for GCSE and A Levels. Although based on historical fact, the issues it raises very much make it a drama for today as current events so clearly demonstrate.
The story played out on the Westacre stage features three very different mothers in three very different time frames. In 1938, desperate Helga Schlesinger is faced with the dilemma of keeping her beloved daughter Eva or letting her become a Kindertransport child.
Taken under the wing of Lil Miller, her good-hearted new foster-mother from Manchester, Eva holds on to the hope that her parents will eventually escape from Germany. But gradually Eva starts the process of denying her roots as she is adopted by Lil and anglicises her name to Evelyn.
Forward to the 1980s and Evelyn is a middle-class English woman in her 50s. Now a proud mother herself, she is preparing to say goodbye to her only daughter Faith who, in her 20s, is about to leave the family home. But in the course of doing so, Faith discovers some papers that will change her life forever.
Westacre Theatre near Swaffham presents six evening performances and a matinee of this moving production between March 10 and 19. You can book your seat with the option of dining as well by visiting www.westacretheatre.com