There is barely room for thirty attendees in the bespoke, box-like theatre space. As the doors close, it’s the audience who must initiate the journey, pressing a button to start this unique adventure. A whistle blows and we’re on a train, travelling back to 1938 for the story of one little girl: a refugee in the Czech Kindertransport. Time shifts, the past meets the present; she is an old lady called Babi with her grandson, en route to revisit the country she was forced to leave many years ago. What follows is an astonishing masterclass in storytelling, using puppetry, interactivity and verbatim accounts. We learn the facts of Babi’s escape, but also experience how it felt for her, fleeing from the Nazi threat.
This simple tale is made extraordinary with superb, innovative puppetry that sparks exhilarating imaginative engagement. The room design allows beautifully crafted characters to pop in and out from all sides, so the audience is constantly unsettled, anticipating where the next will appear. We understand how Babi feels because we, too, are disorientated; confused by incomprehensible languages, shocked by suddenly smashed windows, and out of our comfort zone when asked to leave our seats to become active participants. Equally, we share the pleasant things in life – a friendly dog, enjoying sweets – recognising how these small things can unite people. As Babi’s journey progresses, like her we are eased into a new way of being and understanding; comprehending the power of kindness and humanity to heal distress.
Kinder’s impressive educational content is not only factual but deeply human. We see tiny trains cross a vast map of Europe as we follow Babi’s flight and feel the vulnerability of a small child, making her terrifying trip alone. The enormous depiction of European geography also reveals how countries were connected by the creeping reality of Nazism. We share space with Babi as she is intimidated by guards. Shadow puppetry and verbatim accounts give poignant representation to those who similarly escaped in real life, and tribute is paid to Sir Nicholas Winton, architect of this Kindertransport, who saved over 600 children. Those sent to concentration camps are described not as mere numbers, but as beloved people: families are lost, and children like Babi are bereft. The story is balanced with lighter, comic moments, such as when we help Babi bake a cake using a family recipe – with one unexpected ingredient…
The soundscape for the show is excitingly immersive. At times we are surrounded by soldiers, the ominous noise of jackboots menacingly present. Smashing glass and raised voices mark the terrors of Kristallnacht, but more upbeat incidental music helps describe Babi’s journey across cultures.
Kinder prompts vital conversations about contemporary topics, raising questions about our perception of refugees, how we behave towards them, and how they are affected by their plight. We see Babi struggling with her identity: neither Czech nor British, even her name is uncertain. Who better to protest such issues of relationships and identity but the target audience for the show: teenagers? The play empowers them to understand lived reality, beyond facts and numbers, and makes them active in the narrative. It shows that when everything is taken from us the only thing we control is how we treat each other as humans, and by engaging with this knowledge through Babi’s history they are empowered to envision a better future.
This show is vastly more than a simple entertainment for teenagers: it is a deeply moving, funny, and playfully immersive experience – surely an award winner! It not only delivers an endearing, enjoyable story, but physically and emotionally engages the audience with critical themes, to educate and enable wider understanding.
Script by: Molly Freeman and George Bellamy
Directed by: Molly Freeman
Produced by: Sofia Stephanou
Set Design by: Matt Lloyd
Puppet Design by: Hattie Thomas and Matt Lloyd
Music composed by: Jon Ouin
Sound Design by: George Bellamy
Lighting Design by: Sherry Coenen
Kinder has completed its current run at Little Angel Theatre. It will be playing next at National Holocaust Centre & Museum, Newark (31 May/ 1 June) The Horton, Epsom (15 June) and Harwich Festival, Harwich (30 June/ 1 July, not yet on sale).
Check the Smoking Apples website here for further information about this show and any future dates.