Theatre Review – Kindertransport, Opera House

This is a tale of mother/daughter relationships.

Of course it is set against a backdrop of one of the most important and harrowing world events in history.

However,  Diane Samuels’s play is,  I believe,  a story of human relationships, specifically between mothers and daughters; both biological and nurtured.


2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport, (German for ‘children’s transport’) which saw thousands of Jewish children ferried from Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Free City of Danzig, in an organised rescue effort to safety, 9 months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.

The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 children.

2018 also marks 25 years since the play was first written and performed.

Showing at the Opera House, Manchester, until Saturday 5 May, the story is set almost simultaneously during a period between 1938 -1947, in addition to that of 1980.

Granted this sounds confusing (and this could well be down to my description), but it is testament to the direction, writing, sets and choreography that Kindertransport is creatively clear enough to keep its audience exactly where and when it needs to be, during the play’s narrative.

Beginning in 1938’s Hamburg, we’re introduced to nine-year old Eva (Leila Schaus) and her mother, Helga (Catherine Janke), as they prepare for the former to travel to family in Manchester, England, .

We’re then introduced to Manchester in 1980 as Evelyn (Suzan Sylvester) is going through boxes in the attic looking for items for her daughter Faye (Hannah Bristow), who is preparing to move out of home.

We’re immediately presented with two situations which are similar in nature yet opposing in dynamics.

Both situations present daughters preparing to leave home; their mothers with mixed feelings:

  • Helga is sending the 9 year old Eva away for her own safety, but not through absolute choice. Eva doesn’t want to leave Eva asks her mother for help in sewing a button onto her coat – this help is rejected.
  • Faye does want to leave; mother Evelyn wants to help by passing on her own household items to help her on her way. This help is rejected, Faye insisting that she wants to buy her own.

As Evelyn and Faye quarrel, we are introduced to a further character; Lil (Jenny Lee); mother to Evelyn and grandmother to Faye.


It is when Lil is taken into 1938 to receive a young Eva into her home in Manchester, the audience realise that she is the connection between the two narratives playing out.

The play takes us through parallel relationships as we see the impact that the loss of her mother has on the young Eva and the difficulties of forging a new relationship with a mother figure.

We also see the struggles between Evelyn and Faye, as the former struggles to let go of her daughter.

The themes taken from this, almost, study of human feelings is almost certainly that of loss and (perceived) rejection.

How mothers and daughters can struggle to find a common ground as they deal with their feelings and personalities as individual women, whilst battling against those brought by their roles of nurturer and receiver.


The audience is taken on a journey which examines these relationships and the love which undoubtedly drives all tensions and upset between the main players, and the circumstances which tie their stories together.

In addition, a mainstay throughout is the story and concept of The Rat Catcher (or Der Rattenganger), a mythical creature from a story told to Eva as a young child. The Rat Catcher is depicted as both a terrifying and evil character, both in the short passage we hear read out to a young Eva, and physically depicted throughout the play on stage, appearing as a dark figure, swathed in rags in the shadows (Matthew Brown), seemingly at points of high fear.

Symbolic meaning to the figure can be easily attributed; rejection, loss, Hitler, the Nazis, the Holocaust and ultimately death itself.

But as the story is told out, and secrets are revealed, Diane Samuels brings to  the audience a tale of both the fragility of human relationships and the strength that can ultimately be harnessed by understanding each other’s journey.

To book tickets, please visit ATG Tickets on the Opera House website.

Director – Anne Simon

Designer – Marie-Luce Theis

Lighting Designer – Nic Farman

Sound Designer – Adrienne Quartly

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