I have much sympathy for parents of young tearaways in public places like shopping centres and supermarkets who make every effort in the continual struggle to maintain some semblance of decency and order. But, in the end, they are human beings, and as certain relatives never tire of telling me (and everyone else), I was one of those naughty children once. There are, however, those who think children should, to misquote the Victorian saying, neither be seen nor heard in public. At one point there was even a petition to get children barred from using London Underground services. Needless to say, that campaign never got very far. But there was a time and place when treatment of certain children was far more horrifying, whether or not considered with the benefit of hindsight, than anything feasibly imaginable today.
The Third Reich, in which All Our Children is set, had methods of getting rid of children that didn’t conform to Nazi ideals. I could debate about whether those who were killed off got the better deal at some length, but suffice to say murder is murder. The explanation, as given by Dr Victor Franz (Colin Tierney), clinical director of a paediatric centre, is that certain children, those identified as having disabilities, cost Germany too much money. Unable in their conditions to contribute to society through full-time employment on reaching adulthood, they are to be of no economic benefit and must, therefore, for the greater good of the nation, be dispatched with. It would appear from what Franz’s deputy, Eric Schmidt (Edward Franklin) asserts, that eliminating children with disabilities is tantamount to reducing the tax burden on the working population.
Enter Frau Pabst (Lucy Speed) as she is addressed and referred to in the play, or Elizabetta as the character is listed in the show’s programme. The set of on-stage characters in the play is completed with Martha (Rebecca Johnson), Franz’s maid, a wise and discerning lady. Frau Pabst barges on Franz, more than once, without an appointment, and speaks at length each time with details about her circumstances and family.
Almost bizarrely, despite claiming he is busy, Franz is slow to show her the door. But by not telling her to go straight away, the play gives her the opportunity to tell her story, directly linked to the massacre of the disabled. Her anger in the second half of the play once she has worked out what’s really going on, though totally understandable, could have been a monumental eruption of moral indignation. Instead, it tips over into weeping and melodrama. It is therefore left to Bishop Von Galen (David Yelland) to point out the obvious to the indoctrinated Franz. Having eventually been converted by the bishop, not to organised religion but to a restored belief in the sanctity of life, Franz realises what he must do.
The play’s structure could have been better laid out. Here, the doctor insists on dealing with the other characters one at a time, hence Eric’s irritation when he is told to go in order for a conversation with the uninvited Frau Pabst to take place. The play would have worked better either as a series of monologues describing the same sequence of events but from different perspectives, or by having a less secretive Franz, flinging his door open to hear divergent opinions in a debate-style discussion.
As it is, however, it packs an emotional punch, and clearly had an impact on the audience at the performance I attended. The Catholic Church, although not entirely blameless, is portrayed in a less negative light than is commonplace in theatrical plays. An important and generally overlooked aspect of the Nazi regime is rightly highlighted in a haunting and hard-hitting production.
Review by Chris Comaweng
‘I used to be scared of them. They seemed so different. They don’t scare me anymore. They’re just children, aren’t they? Just children.’
January 1941. Snow is falling.
A terrible crime is taking place in a clinic for disabled children. The perpetrators argue that it will help struggling parents and lift the financial burden on the mighty German state.
One brave voice is raised in objection. But will the Doctor listen?
All Our Children is a moving examination of the human moral dilemma; a powerful story that shows what it takes for humanity and decency to be restored in a world that has abandoned them.
Stephen Unwin’s debut play memorialises the forgotten holocaust, remembering the 200,000 people who died and those who fought against this injustice.
Edward Franklin (Doctor Thorne, Shakespeare in Love, Hay Fever)
Rebecca Johnson (The Trip (Series 1,2,3), The Carrier, Casualty 1900s)
Lucy Speed (Jamie Johnson, Cradle To Grave, National Treasure)
Colin Tierney (The Odyssey, The Iliad, The Father)
David Yelland (Winters Tale, Taken at Midnight, Henry IV)
@tara_finney or use #ChildrenJST
THIS PLAY IS NOT SUITABLE FOR ANY PERSON UNDER 13 YEARS OF AGE.
Tara Finney Productions in association with Jermyn Street Theatre
present ALL OUR CHILDREN
by Stephen Unwin
Directed by Stephen Unwin
Designed by Simon Higlett
Lighting by Tim Mascall
Sound by John Leonard
Casting by Ginny Schiller CDG
All Our Children
Wed, 26th April – Sat, 3rd June