On March 01, our A-level drama group performed in front of an examiner with this astonishing play, ‘Kinder Transport’ written by Diane Samuels. Set in a completely different time where Germany was at the peak of declaring its huge Nazi presence officially, a little Jewish girl is preparing to be sent to England by her parents. The play consisted of five fixed female roles and one male cameo role. Kinder Transport was initially written to show the connection between past, present and future.
My part in the play, being the only male was a cameo role, which meant that I had to take part in many different roles that were not connected to each other or the ruling line of play [between past, present and future] apart from the Ratcatcher part. Throughout the play we used many different ways of performing our characters and getting to know them such as using objectives so that we can understand what the character was feeling and what he/she wants to achieve in someone else or the audience.
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To help us perform and get the message through to the audience we used a well-known acting system, known as the Stanislanski system. We learnt the characters and lines in three stages; first we learnt our objectives and super objectives. One of the many Stanislanski terms we used was Objectives and Super objectives, which was to put a primary objective to cause a change in the other person. To help us achieve this we used other Stanislanski terms such as emotional memory, for example when one of my characters the Nazi Officer enters into a train carriage full of Jews.
To help produce the feeling that a Nazi would get, I imagined that I was walking inside a room filled with pests in it and that I was angry that there was no pest control to exterminate them on my lines, ‘Is there no Councillor in here? ‘ This character was probably the hardest one to perform, as he was the complete opposite of my own character. The second stage was learning how the characters would move and behave to other characters on stage.
To do this we used another Stanislanski term Laban movements, which were the tempo of working actions that our character would use such as the Postman whom used a float movement, as he was very cheerful and happy compared to my other character the Nazi Officer whom used a slash movement to portray his anger and disgust at what was happening in his scene. We also used fixed points to change the way our bodies appeared to the audience, when I played the English Organiser I used a fixed point in my back so that it made me appear older. Another character that used fixed points was Lil, whom made a constant change between old Lil and Younger Lil.
We learnt the process of fixed points by firstly we all positioned our selves in neutral position, then adjusting our bodies slowly in different ways to see which part of our body needed the most adjustment to suite our character. The third stage was to learn the script and understand the ruling ideas of the play write. The ruling idea was the connection of past, present and future with the characters impacts on it. This was shown with Faith, as she cannot change her future until she knows her mothers [Evelyn’s] past of being a Jew.
But the conflict arises as Evelyn can only start a new future in England if she forgets her past in Germany where her own mother rejected her by sending her to England. Even though in the play Faith finds out that her mother is completely different then she though she was, they are actually the same through this perspective. The play write has decided the ruling idea and could not have been changed by the director, but to be worked within. The past, present and future was dramatised simultaneously on stage with the help of lighting effects to flip backwards and forwards between stages to make it clearer to the audience.
The past and present were also shown within the actor’s fixed positions and the way the actors produced them selves through the way they spoke. This was shown with Lil, as she had a young Lil for the past and an older Lil for the future, which added a slit bending in the back and strutting movement to indicate the age difference. Eva had three stages of age difference, two played by one actress and the other by a different actress with an advanced name Evelyn. In addition to this the play write has added numerous cameo roles establishing a clear dramatic convention of multi-role playing.
The change between times and characters proved to be tough as we weren’t able to go off stage to change costume or get use to physical changes due to the stage not being fit to allow off stage changes. The staging of the play was decided to be a multi location acting area due to the two time periods in the play. The stage was set out with three black blocks, which represented past, middle and future. The Ratcatcher was situated in the middle as he spans between two time zones. Our group was situated at the back of the performance seated on blocks to show the convention of moving from actor to character.
This was inspired by Bomound,s system that shows the audience that we are actors, and brings an opposite reaction to what most films and plays create, which is to bring you into the story and believe its real. As we studied this play we became emotionally involved with its context, as it is a very powerful subject, which is very hard to portray in just one play. Even though this play was set 50 years ago, its theme of genocide still exists today and is something that the world has yet to cure. There is also another theme of the relationship between parents and their children.
As we were going through the stages of learning the ruling idea of the play, we were given homework, which asked that if our parents have ever did what their parents did, and said they wouldn’t. This was important in the play as Evelyn was repeating the mistakes Helga made, by pushing her away. Our entire group decided that we needed some background knowledge on what exactly our characters would be feeling with this kind of story, so we all went to watch a documentary inspired on the play, titled, ‘In To The Arms Of Strangers’. This was an amazing documentary, hard to match with the play.
We learnt another theme that the play uses for its ruling idea, memory. Memory was used in the play with Evelyn, whom wanted to forget her past, but her past could only be forgotten once she could face it. The writer of the play, Diane Samuels decided to write this play for many of the themes we used. She was however inspired by someone she knew whom portrayed Faith that dealt with the guilt of survival. It is also indicated that Diane was struck at how her parents passed down so fully to her, which was shown with Helga and Eva. Although this play was based on fictional characters, something like this happened to someone, somewhere.
Kindertransport is a play by Diane Samuels, which examines the life, during World War II and afterwards, of a Kindertransport child. Though fictitious, it is based upon many real kindertransport stories. The play is published by Nick Hern Books.
In November 1938, after nights of violence against Jews across Germany and Austria, the British government introduced a programme called the Kindertransport (children’s transport), which gave Jewish children—and only children—safe passage to the UK. Spared the horrors of the death camps, the Jewish “Kinder” were uprooted, separated from their parents and transported to a different culture where they faced, not the unmitigated horror of the death camps, but a very human mixture of kindness, indifference, occasional exploitation, and the selflessness of ordinary people faced with needy children. Eva Schlesinger, daughter of Helga and Werner, is sent away to live with a foster carer in Manchester, England, temporarily until her parents find work and move to England too. She lives with Lil, a woman who has one other child and is not in a relationship. Her other child is not seen or mentioned in the on screen play, although they are in the book version of the play. Lil allows Eva to smoke when she meets her which shows how Lil is not a proper guardian for Eva at first. Eva and Lil fall out as Eva skips her English lessons to go and ask round rich houses if they will give her parents jobs, Lil thinks this makes her seem desperate. She is unhappy and misses her mother. Eva and Lil both eventually become at peace with one another and get on well, Eva is shown as gradually losing her Jewish roots as she begins eating ham etc. One day Helga arrives when Eva is in her late teens and Eva tells Helga that Lil has adopted her and she has been naturalised as English, and her name is now Evelyn. Helga is offended and upset that Evelyn will not travel to New York with her to stay with family. Helga tells Evelyn her father is dead. They have an argument and Helga leaves, which is then followed by an imaginary vicious, angry argument between Helga and Evelyn in which Evelyn gets out all of her hatred for Helga, and she proclaims that Helga IS the Ratcatcher, a character constantly present in the play. At the same time in the present, Evelyn's daughter Faith is uncovering her Mum's secret past and they have an argument, which eventually comes to rest. All of this takes place in the attic of Lil's house, which supposedly represents Evelyn's psyche.
Kindertransport was first performed in the UK by the Soho Theatre Company at the Cockpit Theatre in London on 13 April 1993 and the US at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York on 26 April 1994. Subsequently the play has been produced in Sweden, Japan, Germany, Austria, Canada and South Africa. It was adapted by the author for a BBC Radio 4 production in 1995. It has also been performed in Manchester in 2014, where the play is set, at the Opera House.