75 years ago, following urgent appeals from Quaker groups, Jewish and non-Jewish organisations, the British government agreed to take part in the emergency evacuation of Jewish children up to the age of seventeen from those countries under immediate threat from the rising Nazi Party.
Set in train stations around the country, ‘Suitcase’ invites the audience to witness the experiences of those involved in Kindertransport, from the children arriving and the foster parents awaiting their arrival to those fundraising on their behalf.
The audience are welcomed to the event as if they themselves were refugees being welcomed by a group of volunteers and musicians, establishing an atmosphere of excitement and anxiousness. Slowly, from among the audience, the children appear and we are introduced to a range of attitudes: There are the older siblings, desperately trying to fill the shoes of their absent parents; the younger children excited by the journey and not quite aware of the severity of the situation; and the ever-optimistic child who believes that all will be well when mummy gets here…
Throughout the play the audience is ushered to different parts of the station to see and take part in a number of vignettes. Some are light hearted, poking fun at the British lack of awareness for cultural differences. Other scenes, however, are far more heart wrenching and I was not surprised to see many of the audience wiping their eyes upon the separation of a little boy from his older sister.
Despite being set in 1938, the audience will have noticed that the disturbing language of one scene in particular was all too familiar. Just as we hear and see the spread of casual racism and scaremongering from populist politicians today, ‘Suitcase’ did well to show that similar attitudes are ever-present. Even with Jewish persecution on the continent being common knowledge, there were some that were keen to spread the words of Oswald Mosely and truly believed that “there is no room” or that the new arrivals would take our jobs.
Overall, the play achieved what it set out to do: to educate. Hopefully, the audience, about a quarter of which were school children, left Sheffield Station in a reflective mood: proud that the UK was involved in Kindertransport, proud that the UK is still seen as a place of refuge for those who need it, and questioning of those who, when faced with people fleeing unimaginable horrors, can simply shake their head and say there is no room.
For those who have been unable to see ‘Suitcase’, the show is still touring on the following dates:
Leeds Central: 19/11/13
Manchester Piccadilly: 21/11/13
Liverpool Lime Street: 22/11/13
Bristol Temple Meads: 25/11/13
Southampton Central: 27/11/13
Harwich International: 29/11/13
Liverpool Street Station, London: 2/12/13
For more information please visit: www.suitcase1938.org
1) Taken by Press Gang