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Kindertransport (Brighton)

Andrew Hall's UK tour of Diane Samuels' Kindertransport opened at the Theatre Royal Brighton last week

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Gabrielle Dempsey (Eva) and Paula Wilcox (Lil)

It's often difficult reviving a play after 20 years: the work is not really not old enough to have become a classic; while, at the same time, it's too old to be regarded as a modern piece.

The revival of Diane Samuels' Kindertransport has been prompted by the 75th anniversary of the first arrivals of the kinder, something that has led to another play on the subject, Suitcase, also touring this autumn.

This is not really something that applies to Kindertransport, partly due to the quality of the writing and partly because the situation is so instantly recognisable today. The rise of the tension against asylum seekers is an uncomfortable reminder of the plight of refugees.

With action switching rapidly between the war years and the 90s, it could have been confusing. However, Andrew Hall's slick production doesn't stumble, nor does he allow any let-up in the emotional intensity of the piece. The ‘secret' at the heart of the play is guessed very early, but this doesn't hamper the impact of the revelation.

There's an excellent performance from Gabrielle Dempsey, who manages the transformation from gauche German schoolgirl to confident English transfer with ease, but it's the contrasting mothers who hold the attention: Janet Dibley's Evelyn, with her near-OCD attention to sorting out possessions, is starkly contrasted with Emma Deegan's Helga, frantically trying to keep her daughter packing items that would hinder her safe transport out of Germany. Deegan's drawn expression by the end of the evening speaks volumes about the emotional journey she has undertaken. If there's a complaint about Samuels' writing, it's that Lil is too much of a caricature of a northern matriarch, for whom a cup of tea is the panacea that solves every woe. Paula Wilcox does her best, but the character is too much of a cipher.

On the evening that I went, the theatre was packed with a party of teenagers: it speaks volumes for the intensity of the play that they were reduced to rapt silence. This is a work that will never lose its power to enthrall and shock, in equal proportions, but it's useful to be served timely reminders now and then about the trials faced by people coming to this country.