Players Theatre


This play by Diane Samuels first performed in 1993 may seem many generations away from the 1930s and of little consequence to modern day but in reality and in terms of history is not that long ago and is a chilling reminder of what human beings are capable of, the hurt and misery we can cause but also the love and care we can give each other.


The play itself tells the fascinating and at times emotional story of the evacuation of Jewish children to England between Kristallnacht and the declaration of war against Germany. The children had to travel alone and were taken in by English families. Most of the evacuees never saw their parents again as the majority perished in Nazi concentration camps.


The action begins in Hamburg in 1938 where Helga (Anne Wint) is spending her final hours with her daughter Eva (Nemone Wolfendale) before she boards the train to England. She makes her sew a button onto her coat, as the mother knows she will no longer be able to perform such tasks for her, and the fear and anxiety of the young girl on her lonely journey.


Eva lands on her feet, with a good natured adoptive mother, Lil (Margaret Williams), in Manchester. Over the years she becomes completely anglicised, changing her name to Evelyn (Angela Dunn). But the action also leaps forwards more than 40 years to the 1980s, as Evelyn’s own child – Faith (Megan Thorburn), now a young adult prepares to leave home for the first time and belatedly discovers the truth about her mother’s past.


This play was very thought provoking and gives an insight into how some people individually deal with memories from their past, some are able to embrace them and move forward positively in life and some bury them deep within themselves.


From the very start the director, David Burns, set the tone with effective use of projected emotive images from the 1930’s and this added to the gravity of the piece. There was also good use of shadow projection to create atmosphere when mother and daughter are telling the story of the Ratcatcher that evokes horrors into children.


The set designed by himself and constructed by Lee McGregor and team was spacious and essentially split into two sections; a family room in Germany and the rest of an attic in a house in England. I also felt that placing the action in an attic was quite symbolic of a person’s mind. After all, most of our possessions tend to be stored in a roof space just as we store memories in our mind and as we access these, stories unfold either for better or worse.


Chris Burnett’s lighting was effective, especially in the opening scene when a solitary spotlight lit up a chair. There was more evidence of lighting isolations throughout the play that centred the audience’s attention. Though there wasn’t much in the way of sound, David Oliver chose some pieces that created mood and the recording of the Ratcatcher story worked well to capture audience interest.


The focus of this play is from the perspective of the girl Eva, played wonderfully by Nemone Wolfendale. The sense of innocence was excellent as the girl with her mother and later to a person who feels abandoned by the ones she loved. Nemone portrayed a range of emotions throughout that really captivated the audience. It has been a pleasure to see this young player become a confident actor who feels at home on the stage and who is confident to hold her own space when sharing with others that have more experience.


Anne Wint was super and gave an emotional performance of Helga. There was good accent and pace in dialogue. The body language showed the bond between mother and daughter and at times the tactile touches, whether directed or not were natural reactions of a parent who wanted only the best for her child and done out of love. The sense of abandonment by her when after the war she returns to claim her daughter was extremely touching for us in the audience but it was also clear to see that as an actress Anne had given herself to the person and was really in the moment.


Angela Dunn took on the mantle of the grown up Eva, now Evelyn, and pushed the character through emotions of secrecy, denial and ultimately confession that she had a previous life and identity all through the discovery of a box of memorabilia. She was ably supported by Margaret Williams as her adoptive mother. The quick switches from modern day Lil to the younger foster parent interacting with the child Eva were super and kept the pace going. Also, Megan Thorburn did well to show the desperation of a daughter who thought she knew her mother but wanted to discover her past and her own heritage.


Though there were not many parts for the men in the company Ian Pearson as the postman and Peter Grieve as the English Organiser and then Station Guard, the later injecting some humour into the piece to lighten the mood added to the story.

Hair and Makeup by Pam Lambert deserves a special mention. It was essential that the character of Eva progressed throughout the two acts in age and this was effectively done mainly by hair styling, from plaits at a young age to hair down later. Anne Wint’s transformation was excellent from a healthy woman at the start to someone that had had a terrible experience in life by the end of Act 2. The use of makeup, whoever did it was remarkable and really contributed to my feeling of sorrow for the character.


The horrors of war and their impacts are such that people want to forget but in the writings of playwrights such as Diane Samuels and the willingness of societies such as Players means that they will not. Which in my view, is all to the good. Thank you for your production and for your hospitality.