Sunday, 11 March 2007

Kindertransport Children Come to Life in Liverpool

Award-winning playwright brings to life the darkest side of European history

Mar 9 2007

by Philip Key, Liverpool Daily Post

Liverpool-born writer, Diane Samuels

BETWEEN late 1938 and September, 1939, some 10,000 Jewish refugee children were allowed out of Nazi Germany to settle in Britain. Travelling in sealed trains, they were scattered across the country and most would never see their parents again.

What became of these children, who were involved in what became known as Kindertransport? And how did the experience affect their lives?

That is the theme of Liverpool-born writer Diane Samuels's hit play Kindertransport, first staged in London in 1993.

Curiously, it has never been staged in her home city, a situation corrected next week with a revival of it by the Shared Experience company, at the Liverpool Playhouse.

Diane has since written many more dramas, produced by a number of different theatre companies, but Kindertransport remains dear to her heart.

It was written at a time when she had just completed a radio play, was writing a children's drama for the Unicorn Theatre, where she was working as an education officer, and when she was really just starting out as a playwright.

It was not commissioned. "I had seen a television documentary in 1989 as it was the 50th anniversary of Kindertransport. I had a friend's father who had been on it and the subject struck me as interesting.

"I mulled over it a little bit and then started writing because I wanted to write it."

She gave it to playwright Mark Ravenhill and asked him what he thought. He did some workshops on it at the Soho Theatre, and then passed it on to the artistic director.

"Well, I didn't hear anything and I was going to ring when I had a call from Jack Bradley, the literary manager, to say the play had been short-listed for a Verity Bargate Award." As Diane had not entered it, she was surprised.

It turned out that the artistic director had entered it without asking her. The play won the prize that year - 1992 - and the following year it was presented at the Soho.

"There were people queuing round the block to see it, it went to the West End (with Diana Quick starring) and a year later it was presented off-Broadway. The rest is history."

It has since been produced by other companies and is a favourite with amateurs. But the new production, directed by Polly Teale and with Diane Samuels very much involved, is described as a major revival.

It is the story of Eva, who is evacuated from Nazi Germany by train and raised by an Englishwoman in Britain. Many years later, now named Evelyn, her secret past is discovered.

For the play, Diane did essential research, interviewing many of the Kindertransport children. "They were all profoundly affected. Those who say people should just get on with life are not dealing with something and it's a way of being in denial."

At the core of the story is the mother/daughter relationship. Eva was an only daughter and, as Evelyn, also has a single daughter - the daughter discovers the secret.

"People who have seen the play often come up to me and tell me that their mother or father was on Kindertransport, but never talked about it, and they learned more from my play than they did from their parents.

"Others have said it was the first time their mother has talked about the experience after seeing the play."

She is delighted with the Shared Experience production. "The company works in a distinctive style which really suits this play," she says. "It is as if the play has come home, as if it was written for this company.

"The play is not meant to be done straight, whatever that means. It works deep in emotional territory, unlayering the emotional psyche of the human being."

Meanwhile, she is completing the first draft of her new play, Three Sisters on Hope Street, her reworking of Chekhov's Three Sisters, but set among the Jewish community of post-war Liverpool.

Due to be staged by the Playhouse as part of the Liverpool Capital of Culture celebrations, it is the first commission from her home city.

  • KINDERTRANSPORT opens at the Liverpool Playhouse on Tuesday, and runs until March 17

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    Council leader Warren Bradley said that some individual councillors’ behaviour was “appalling” and not fitting of a democratic society.




    Roger: This is not a good report for us is it Warren?
    Fireman:Well Roger we’ve got to put it into perspective really haven’t we and remember where Liverpool was and that’s not thinking back 10 years. Liverpool has come an awful long way. The people of Liverpool were asking for lower Council Tax and the Liberal Democrats have delivered that and they also wanted better services and you look at the services that are now delivered by Liverpool City Council. If we look at the most vulnerable either elderly or the Children’s Services the social care we are now delivering at a level that Liverpool has never delivered before. We also look at the bread and butter your schools, your sports centres, your libraries, One Stop Shops in communities, our parks, we’ve got 13 green flag parks. It’s like a new home to me when you get an old dilapidated derelict building you’ve got to bring it up to a standard and I think Liverpool City Council under the Liberal Democrats have certainly done that and I am certain if we did a survey of people in the City do you want Liverpool City Council to sit on £20m worth of reserves or do you want the City Council delivering front line services that affect the most vulnerable and people’s lives in the City. I think that they would vote with their feet and say that we support the policies of Liverpool City Council. We’ve got to look at the financial regulations put in by Government and if you want my opinion about this Roger it is purely political.
    Roger: Well come on, you know the Audit Commission is not a political body
    Fireman: Well with respect Roger and I would beg to differ on that
    Roger: Well how can it be a political, it’s an independent organisation?
    Fireman: We can say everything is independent to a certain extent but you know you look at what we’ve got at the moment in Liverpool and we’re delivering top quality services.
    Roger: But the problem with this is that you’ve got an overall score rating of 2 which was adequate performance into 05, overall score in 06 was 2 which is adequate performance.
    This year it is down to 1 below minimum requirements inadequate performance.
    Fireman: Based around financial regulations…
    Roger: Yes I’m talking about the financial…..
    Fireman: Laid down by government. I mean that’s what you’ve got to remember. Don’t try and muddy the waters and say oh this is about Liverpool City Council and their overall performance. It’s not. You look at the issue that we’ve done about achievements. Liverpool scoring 3-4 on achievement at the moment through the Audit Commission.
    Roger: I didn’t know that.
    (EDs: Pitiful, just pitiful.)
    Fireman: And we do seem to always go to the negatives when we’re looking for something like this.
    Roger: The District Auditor was pretty negative about you wasn’t he and…
    Fireman: No, I have got to say Roger I would love to have £50m in reserves. I would also love not to have to put additions of £7m into adult social care and £2-3m into children’s social care. The facts are we have got to do that because of the pressures that are on Liverpool at the moment.
    Roger: So are other Councils….
    Fireman: I’m not willing as Leader of this Council to take away care to the most vulnerable to allow it to sit in reserve. I am not willing to do that and I will go to the stake on that the people of the City. Liverpool now is only one of a handful of Councils up and down the country that is providing moderate care to the most vulnerable people in the City. Now to give people an idea of what moderate care is that is home care. These people who’ve got no family to support them and require a visit in the morning or a visit in the evening to make sure they’re ok to help them to take the pills, to make sure that they’ve got the food. Most Councils up and down this country have removed that care. Liverpool City Council is still allowing our most vulnerable people our sort of care. Now is that wrong, is that wrong?
    Roger: Now no one would argue that’s wrong but everyone. But many people are affected by housing. Housing is really poor isn’t it. I mean you are so poor you’ve had to hand it over to a different group to run it.
    Fireman: Well with respect Roger, with respect, you’ve got to know what the Housing Corporation have done and in partnership with the Government again it’s easy to say it’s the Council, in partnership with the Government we’ve tackled head on through the Pathfinder areas of the inner core of the City some of the housing inefficiencies of the City. That hasn’t happened over the last five years that’s happened over 30 or 40 years. The problems in Norris Green in housing were prevalent 30 or 40 years ago and weren’t tackled. As an Authority we’ve challenged what wasn’t tackled and we’ve challenged it head on and I opened a couple of weeks ago with Flo Clucas and Marilyn Fielding with Cobalt Housing the first phase of Norris Green. We’ve transformed that area and its got houses for sale and social housing in Norris Green that people are seeking to live in now. We’ve got in a core Edge Hill, Kensington, Kirkdale the same issues that have been there for 30 or 40 years that we’re tackling now hand in hand with the Government. I’m not taking the credit for it and the Government isn’t. We’ve got a schools’ programme that is second to none. Liverpool’s young people are now achieving at the national average. I want it higher than national average to give new opportunity but again I’ll say I’m not going to suit accountants’ financial regulations in London and leave £millions sitting in reserve while we have still got the challenges Liverpool has got and I think people you know.
    Roger: Do you think it was a mistake to keep Council Tax down or freeze it over the past few years?
    Fireman: Well isn’t it ironic Roger how last week John Healey said how Liverpool is charging £101 a head...
    Roger: Because its inefficiencies….
    Fireman: Well we have taken £150m worth of inefficiencies out of our budget over the last 10 years. We’ve kept Council tax down which is exactly what Government policy is and is exactly what John Healey is saying. Councillor Joe Anderson is saying something completely different to the people of Liverpool that he will put taxes up to build reserves to put in reserve well again this administration this Lib Dem administration is not going to tax for the sake of taxing to leave money sitting in reserve. We will build up the reserves over a period of years and then we will be able to tackle some of the other issues that we’ve got to do. We recognise the health inequalities. To improve health inequalities we’ve got to have a real stable economy offering real opportunity and raising the aspirations in them poorer communities. You cannot do that leaving millions and millions of pounds laying in reserves and this administration will continue the robust financial management that we’ve done. We’ll carry on delivering…
    Roger: If it was that robust we wouldn’t have this problem of £20m overdrawn on Capital of Culture.
    Fireman: Roger, lets put things into hindsight. We are still delivering front line services. We are still…
    Roger: It’s about £20m overall that we’re short this year – now that’s not robust management
    Fireman: But Roger we are going through a budget setting process. Every Local Authority up and down the country is in the same process as us. I remember reading about Wirral being £50m short. Other Local Authorities. I meet the core city leaders who are £40-£50m short exactly the same as Liverpool . And let’s not forget I haven’t come on here to knock the Government I’ve come on here to say that I believe we’ve got a robust financial programme in place that is going to deal with the shortfall. We’ve delivered year on year but I’ll say again I am not going to allow millions and millions of pounds to lay in reserve. Cut front line services to the most vulnerable and then say that’s acceptable. Nor as Leader of this Council am I going to allow Council Tax to go through the roof again which will drive the inability to bring further investment into this City. While the Lib Dems have been in control we’ve brought Council Tax down, we’ve brought renewed confidence and we’ve brought real investment that will bring opportunities to the most vulnerable and I think that is the most important and I think the people of this City will stand full square with us on that. I’m proud of what we’ve delivered in this City over the last 10 years and Capital of Culture is part of that."