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Silent Wings

Daisy Jorgensen
Lion & Unicorn Theatre

Henry Kombert as Hanus and Daisy Jorgensen as Alena Credit: Nick Spratling
Charlotte Hobbs as Eva and Aaron Vodovoz as Pavel
Aaron Vodovoz as Pavel and Henry Kombert as Hanus

Daisy Jorgensen’s first play was inspired by a published collection of the poetry and artwork produced by the child inmates of the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp which was set up by the German SS in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. Some of these poems are used to mark the break between scenes with The Butterfly by Pavel Friedmann (died in Auschwitz 1944 aged 13) strongly influencing its content.

Terezin wasn’t a death camp, rail transports took victims on to Treblinka or Auschwitz, but of the 150,000 incarcerated (15,000 of them children) many thousands did die there. Nevertheless, the camp was used for propaganda purposes and cultural activity encouraged to present a false picture of conditions there.

Silent Wings presents a world seen by children. The four children seen here have encountered horrors but they do not know all that we know. Each has an understanding of their situation based on their own experience.

Director Scott Rogers presents them in a barren black space sitting each in isolation. One boy, Hanus, reads a book; a book which, we soon discover, describes the life cycle of a butterfly. A girl, Eva, the youngest, plays with a tiny peg doll. Pavel fidgets with his fingers. Alena, almost certainly the eldest sits still and pensive, she might almost be praying. A bird is singing.

When house lights dim, there is music: cello, piano, clarinet, mellow and searching, and Hanus (Henry Kombert) begins to read about butterflies laying eggs, maybe 100, of which only a handful will complete their life cycle. How many of Terezin’s children will do that?

Eva (Charlotte Hobbs) has been frightened by a bogeyman in boots. It is Pavel (Aaron Vodovoz) imitating the guards, stamping around, giving orders and shooting his imaginary gun. It is only a boy playing games but he say’s he’s not a boy: he had his Bar Mitzvah before they were sent to the transports. It turns out he’s grown up with violence, his drunken father beating his mother.

They have all been separated from family, taken off on other trains. Hanus saw his grandfather pushed out off the train, left lying there as they rushed on, but they seem to accept these are things that happen, now normal, without real understanding, except perhaps Alena (Daisy Jorgensen).

She’s more mature though she clings on to the memory of flowers in a wood as she goes to sail a little wooden boat on a lake. She was there when her baby brother was born, she knows about pain, about blood, intends to be a midwife and help others and does it now trying to protect them from their worst fears.

Here, in a world where people get shot on the barbed wire or taken away no one knows where, these children are blocking out some things, concentrating on others—somehow coping. Eva can’t understand why they can’t have their shoes back; they ask whether the men outside feel guilty. There is compassion for others, even love blossoming but the transports are waiting.

All four actors deliver true and touching performance. You can’t help being moved by them. Roger’s direction paces it beautifully with subtle lighting and Roy Page’s music totally supportive. If the voice-over poems were better delivered and reproduced more clearly, this could be even more effective.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton