Review: Kindertransport @ Opera House, Manchester

Kindertransport has returned to the stage in Manchester 25 years after writer Diane Samuels’ first showing – and it’s now presented to the world in a time where its themes of identity politics, immigration and anti-Semitism are perhaps more topical than ever.

Based on the true events of the Kindertransport railway journeys organised to save Jews escaping from Germany and its occupied territories prior to and during the Second World War, Samuels asks the audience to carefully question the long-term implications of conflict and its haunting memories during this stint at the Opera House.

The play opens in 1938 Hamburg in the Schlesinger household. Nine-year-old daughter Eva (Leila Schaus) is packing to undertake a fateful journey to be transported to England to the home of complete strangers, far away from the impending danger facing her family and fellow Jews in Germany.

Meanwhile, we are simultaneously introduced to mother Evelyn (Suzan Sylvester) in 1980s Manchester as she prepares to cast her teenage daughter Faith (Hannah Bristow) off into the wilderness, interchanging between the periods throughout.

TOPICAL: The play is still relevant 25 years after it first opened 

Drawing comparisons between the two generations of family and circumstance, Kindertransport advances with Faith’s discovery of a box of papers. Through doing this she discovers her own mother’s plight, which raises questions about her mum’s heritage and hidden personality.

In the meantime, in wartime Britain, Eva is forced to become growingly accustomed to life with her adopted mother Lil (Jenny Lee) without knowing the true peril facing her parents at the hand of the Nazi’s ethnic cleansing policies back in her native Germany.

The story progresses, building up intense relationships between the characters and providing a sense of fear, danger and the unknown with the looming presence of the fictionalised Ratcatcher (Matthew Brown) lurking alongside the set to create an eerie and constant dark atmosphere.

While the play provides an intriguing twist as the show nears its conclusion, it at times feels laboured before it draws to a close to ripples of applause from the audience.

LABOURED: Some of the dialogue doesn’t move along as smoothly as it should

Notably, actresses Jenny Lee (Lil) and Leila Schaus (Eva) both exhibit a visibly heart-warming on stage relationship, providing equal moments of comedy, emotion and intrigue, whereas other members of the cast at times lacked genuine raw emotion or appeared overly artificial in exchanges.

Contrastingly, Kindertransport’s lighting and staging are for the most part simple, yet effective and allow for neat interchanges between both time periods without the necessity of clunky stage changes.

Moreover, the play’s sound and musical score provide a backdrop of fear, sadness and anger, symbolising the terror and underlying sorrow portrayed on the stage.

Director Anne Simon’s portrayal of Kindertransport may not be perfect and at times feels laboured during conversations between characters, but its message and intelligent reimaginating of one of history’s darkest periods is nonetheless still as telling now as it was a quarter of a century ago.

*Kindertransport is playing at Opera House, Manchester until Saturday, May 5. You can buy tickets HERE.

Related Articles