Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Suitcase

Ros Merkin
Suitcase and Hope Street Ltd
Liverpool Street Station

Performance on tour at Glasgow Central Station

Exactly 75 years after the first Kindertransport arrived at Liverpool Street Station on 2 December 1938, this production, which has been playing at stations across the country, has its final performances of the tour.

This peripatetic performance began at the Kindertransport statue outside the station where, like the original refugees, each individual in the audience was tagged with a number, shared their somewhat unnerving welcome and then departed in groups to locations around the station where they encountered a variety of situations drawn from the real stories of some of those thousands of unaccompanied children who arrived here to escape Nazi oppression.

This promenade performance not only engages with the situation of the children but with that of the organisers of this rescue operation, the volunteers who came forward to offer homes for them and even with the parents and families left behind.

Ros Merkin has done an amazing job in devising this script, which is brought to life by a splendid company of actors under her direction. Warm-hearted though those volunteers and organisers may have been, this is a warts and all picture of their failure to really understand the child’s position, of the conflicts and contradictions among them. The self-interest of individuals and the xenophobic attitude of a disapproving lady taking tea are contrasted with the generosity of members of the local railway workers union.

The range of refugees, from those with affluent backgrounds to those in threadbare coats, the wrench at parting from their children for the families left behind, the sibling squabbles and responsibilites, the differences the children had to cope with—so much has been packed in, the information seamlessly encapsulated in the action of each individual situation whether it be a lad faced with white bread for the first time and single-handedly trying to find a way of getting his mother out of Czechoslovakia, a husband insisting that they have been promised a boy and spurning the girl assigned to them or the fraught little boy dying to pee then at just that traumatic moment parted from his sister.

It is a splendid cast fromGemma Banksand Daniel Hayes as prospective foster parents to Charlotte Allmand and Ross McCall as brother and sister from Vienna, Kitty Martin as their mother left behind, Zoot Lynam as Stephan from Prague,Becky Barry played Anne, his new foster sister,Gemma Banks (again) as posh little Renie and Tom Hosker as a railway porter, some of them doubling up in other role, with Jackie Jones as the ubiquitous but Refugee Children’s Movement organiser.

The sheer logistics of manoeuvring half a dozen different groups around the station to catch the separate scenes at just the right time so that each smaller group encounters all of them is a challenge, brilliantly met by the production team.

There is no straight through narrative; indeed individual audience groups probably experience the scenes in a different sequence, and it says much for the skill of the construction as well as the playing that it is nevertheless totally involving. It is often funny and always moving for, as well as sharing the uncertainties and fears of these youngsters, we know, long before they do, what was happening to their families in Europe, which also becomes an essential part of the story after the brief euphoria of VE Day.

My only regret about this production is that it has had so few performances, playing only for one day at each of the stations where it has been presented. The play was first mounted at Liverpool Street in 2008 and this revival to mark the 75th Anniversary of Kindertransport was most welcome but it is a shame that does not play for longer.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton