Perse actors stage compelling Kindertransport production
Perse Year 9 actors highlighted the experiences of young Jewish wartime refugees in their powerful performance of Kindertransport.
Based around the character of Eva, the Diane Samuels’ play reflected on her struggles to come to terms with her past. After being brutally separated from her Jewish parents in Germany on the eve of World War II, nine-year-old Eva was brought to England via Kindertransport – a rescue effort that saw almost 10,000 Jewish children brought to the UK from across Nazi-controlled Europe in 1938 and 1939.
When Eva’s parents failed to escape Germany, she changed her name and began the process of denying her roots. It was only when her son discovered some letters in their attic that Eva was forced to confront the truth about the past.
English and drama teacher Kathryn Salmond, who directed Kindertransport, felt it was a vital subject to tackle.
She said: “It’s about a part of history that’s really important, especially with current events and discussions around anti-Semitism, tolerance, religion and migration. Many of the Kindertransport children faced quite a lot of discrimination when they arrived here and the play questions the narrative of Britain being a welcoming place during the war.
“However, the main character has flashbacks talking about her love for Britain when Germany spat her out, so it’s a really complex play.”
Miss Salmond was thrilled with the cast’s performances and the work they had put into the production since rehearsals began last term.
She added: “They learned a lot from it themselves, questioning what their characters were thinking and feeling and if there was anything they were unsure about, we delved into the history and had those conversations when they arose. There were some quite sensitive issues which we tried to work through thoughtfully.
“The audiences seemed really engaged in the performances. Quite a few people felt emotional after seeing it and learned something new.”
Adding extra resonance to the production, Robert Rayner (Upper Sixth) researched The Perse’s involvement in the Kindertransport programme, with the help of the school’s alumni and development team.
Governors’ meeting minutes from the era revealed the school committed to take up to five young refugees on full or partial bursaries.
Robert discovered two of the Kindertransport children educated at The Perse went on to have long and distinguished careers. Lucian Lewitter became Professor of Slavonic Studies at Cambridge University, while Michael Steinberg moved to the USA and emerged as a renowned musicologist famed for his pre-concert talks.