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Kindertransport by Diane Samuels at Richmond Theatre | Review

L-R Hannah Bristow & Leila Schaus - Kindertransport - Photo credit Mark Sepple
L-R Hannah Bristow & Leila Schaus – Kindertransport – Photo credit Mark Sepple

Kindertransport will undoubtedly take its rightful place alongside The Diary of Anne Frank, Schlinder’s List and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It will play a big part in the education of all of us as we move towards global citizenship based on emotional intelligence. Written by Diane Samuels, Kindertransport tells the story of the 10,000 German Jewish children who were sent to Britain unaccompanied by their desperate parents. Most never saw their parents ever again.

Diane Samuels, the writer in residence at Grafton Primary School in Islington has weaved together history, sociology, psychology and philosophy to create a play that asks the deepest existential questions. Who am I? Who is going to look after me? Who can I trust?

In this brilliant new production directed by Anne Simon, everything – set, sound, lighting, acting – works to bring to life a compelling human story. The set is crucial to the play. We see the loft of a house with a track either side and a door at the far end. This is obviously a reference to the railway that led to Auschwitz. The exposed beams of the house resemble gallows. On the floor are thousands of scraps of blue paper. These could be stones, or rats or bodies. Trap doors either side of the house create a sense of burial, death and hell. The lighting alternating between black and white coupled with the eerie sound effects all go to make an unforgettable image of horror.

The acting from all six performers is outstanding. Suzan Sylvester as the grown-up Eva (renamed Evelyn) is excellent in the way which she crumbles from no-nonsense I’m not talking about this into a broken wreck, under the incessant questioning from her daughter Faith (Hannah Bristow) who finds documents in the loft which trigger her quest to find out what happened. Jenny Lee is on stage for most of the evening as she plays Lil Miller in the 1939 flashback scenes and in the contemporary scenes fifty years later. This device works wonderfully, especially because the actors remain on stage from both eras adding emotional depth, plus saving time on all that usual scene changing palaver.

But the stand-out performance is that given by Leila Schaus as nine-year-old Eva. This is a remarkable performance. She miraculously manages to bring to life a realistically believable nine-year-old girl. Her accent is extraordinary. And when she speaks German the authenticity and realisation it brings sends shivers down one’s spine. She is a German Jewish girl, she speaks German. She is so believable. One example will have to stand in for many that I could cite. She is waiting at Manchester Railway Station for her parents to arrive. It’s 11th September 1939. She has a letter from her parents so she is certain that they will be there because they said they would be. When after three days of waiting she realises that they are not coming she pauses and thinks for a while and then decides that she is no longer their daughter and that she will become an English girl and forget about them. This is just one of the many surprising counterintuitive insights that Kindertransport brings out, there are many more, some truly shocking. Kindertransport is drama at its best doing what only live theatre can do.

5 Star Rating

Review by John O’Brien

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Les Theatres de la Ville de Luxembourg in association with Selladoor Productions present Kindertransport by Diane Samuels. Directed by Anne Simon. Designed by Marie-Luce Theis.

A deeply moving and timely modern classic about a woman’s struggle to come to terms with her past.

Hamburg 1938: nine-year-old Eva is forced onto a train by her desperate mother in order to escape the threat of World War II. Arriving at Liverpool Street Station, tagged like a piece of luggage, she’s handed over to strangers.

Manchester 1980: Evelyn, a proud mum, prepares to say goodbye to daughter Faith as she leaves the family home. But what Faith finds in the attic will change her life forever…

This heart-warming production is from the producers of last year’s acclaimed revival of The Crucible. It marks the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport, which saw thousands of Jewish children ferried from Austria and Germany to safety.

Diane Samuels wrote this extraordinary and haunting play 25 years ago. It has never been more relevant than today.

Richmond Theatre
Tuesday 24th to Saturday 28th April 2018

Manchester Opera House
Tuesday 1st May to Saturday 5th May 2018


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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