The way certain sections of the British media have covered evacuations of Jewish children in the late 1930s from the evil of the Third Reich, anyone would have been mistaken for thinking Sir Nicholas Winton was singularly responsible for the whole Kindertransport operation. But there were many people who mucked in to make it happen, and even a rudimentary look at the facts and the scale of the operation would make anyone realise that it’s no wonder Winton remained guarded and almost embarrassed by the attention focused on him: what about everyone else, and more importantly for him, what about the people whose lives were saved?
Sir Nicholas, I think, would have been pleased with Transports, which isn’t so much about the logistics of moving so many Jewish German children to Britain as it is about the life and times of Lotte (Juliet Welch), whose foster child Dinah (Hannah Stephens) forces her, debatably inadvertently, to confront the demons of the past. You’ll have gathered that the show is not entirely set in the late 1930s – it’s not quite ‘present day’ either, mind you.
Proceedings rattle through at a steady pace, and only occasionally things move a little too slowly, and a running gag about peppermints may or may not outlast its welcome, dependent on your sense of humour. I personally found it hilarious – some others in the audience weren’t quite as responsive.
Factually speaking, this show doesn’t really tell me anything new. I have long been fascinated by stories if Holocaust survivors and other tales of triumph over severe adversity. But this still makes for a very absorbing production – perhaps a familiarity with the general themes explored allowed me to sit back and get immersed in proceedings. Either way, I hesitate to say I ‘enjoyed’ this, at least not in the same way I would ‘enjoy’ a good comedy or feel-good musical. I am, however, more than satisfied with this production, and am pleased to have had the privilege of seeing it.
The narrative does not follow a linear progression, which a couple of fellow audience members found jarring. I didn’t have a problem with the show flitting between generations, and the transformation of Lotte (pronounced ‘Lott-uh’) to Mrs Weston, Lotte’s wartime foster carer, and Dinah to ‘Young Lotte’ as she was when she first came to Britain, is extraordinary. The switch happens so quickly and seamlessly back and forth quite a few times over the course of the evening, and these scene changes are a marvel to watch in their own right. There are credible depictions, too, of different places – without, I hasten to add, an elaborate set.
There’s no melodrama in a skilled exploration of some hard-hitting issues, including the psychological impact of abandonment and appropriate responses to vehement opposition. It came across as unsentimental – by which I do not mean ‘cold’, but stoic and realistic. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, but Cornwall-based Pipeline Theatre does it flawlessly here.
The use of different literary styles including blank verse and sonnets, even if such devices are made too explicitly clear, helps add extra poignancy to the words being said. Carrying this sort of multi-layered story is not exactly a walk in the park, and may well have been less successfully executed had it not been for the talented and stellar duo of Welch and Stephens, neither of whom are ever off-stage for very long. This is a strong and admirable drama, helping its audiences to remember that problems encountered in life are more universal than we may sometimes think.
Review by Chris Omaweng
In the late seventies a volatile fifteen year old finds herself shunted into her final foster home. Her widowed foster mother has a hint of a foreign accent, verbal diarrhoea and a trunk full of secrets. As youth plays cat and mouse with age, two parallel sets of revelations collide with devastating consequences.
Weaving film and powerful underscore, jumping in time between the 1970s and WWII, ‘Transports’, by turns funny and moving, is a journey not quickly forgotten. It was inspired by the experiences of designer Alan Munden’s mother, a Kindertransport refugee.
Pipeline Theatre has a reputation for addressing serious, potentially difficult yet universally relevant subjects in a moving, humorous and totally engrossing way. They were recently shortlisted for the Carol Tambor ‘Best of Edinburgh Award’ for their critically acclaimed show ‘Spillikin’.
28th February 2016 – 12th March 2016
Main House – Pleasance London
Suitable for ages 12 and above