Kinder, a puppet show about the Czech Kindertransport cover photo

Kinder, a puppet show about the Czech Kindertransport

Kinder, a puppet show about the Czech Kindertransport cover photo

Lyn Gardner talks to puppetry company Smoking Apples about their bitingly relevant new show

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Kinder

Kinder

Little Angel Theatre cover photo
Smoking Apples cover photo
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Molly avatar on Stagedoor

“Even in war people try to lead ordinary lives, they try to get by in any way they can,” says Molly Freeman, the director of Kinder which opens at the Little Angel Theatre this week. “With Kinder we are looking about what happens when you wake up one morning and know that life can’t go on as it has before. It is about finding the human voices in dramatic world events.”

In Ukraine in mid-February life went on pretty much as normal. Of course, there were concerns about rising tensions, but Ukrainians had been living with those tensions for years. Daily life went on until it suddenly it didn’t. The Russians invaded on 24th February.

For the Jewish community living in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s the rise of the Nazis in Germany was concerning, but it was the brutal violence against German Jews on Kristallnacht in November 1938 that made them realise how uncertain and bleak their future might be. With the help of a British man, Nicholas Winton, around 600 families started to make arrangements for their children to flee Czechoslovakia for the UK, helping with the legal arrangements and finding sponsors for them. It took 50 years for his contribution to be recognized.

The Czech Kindertransport is less well known than a similar scheme that saw German Jews send their children to England for safety, but it is the subject of a new puppetry play: Kinder. Kinder-- a title which comes with a play on words-- is created by Smoking Apples, a rising puppetry and visual theatre company whose previous work includes Cell, about a man facing death because of Motor Neurone disease. Kinder has imagined characters but draws strongly on verbatim testimonies drawn from the Voice Vision Holocaust Memorial Archive based in Michigan in the US.

Publicity photo courtesy of Smoking Apples, photo by The Other Richard.

The company’s co-artistic directors Molly Freeman and Matt Lloyd have strong links with the Czech Republic: they studied puppetry in Prague, a city which used puppetry as a form of subversion and resistance against the Nazi occupation. Over 100 Czech puppeteers died during the war as the Nazis belatedly cottoned on to the fact that the puppet shows that they thought were harmless children’s entertainment often carried subversive messages of resistance.

In the UK we often view puppetry (despite the success of shows such as War Horse) as kids’ stuff, but while Kinder is directed at teenage audiences, the story of nine-year-old Babi who is sent across Europe on the Kindertransport and is settled in the seaside town of Margate is one that audiences of all ages are likely to take to their hearts. It’s a story that because of the Ukraine refugee crisis feels all the more urgent and necessary.

“At its heart,” says Freeman, “this is a show about being human and acts of kindness. On every stage of Babi’s journey, she encounters others whose actions have huge impact on her. She faces massive obstacles and the world throws everything at her, but people help her too. Her process in the show is about trying to understand her identity and who she is and where she belongs, something all teenagers experience, but which is magnified here.”

Publicity photo courtesy of Smoking Apples, photo by The Other Richard.

Freeman points out that after the war many on the Kindertransport were not immediately and, in many cases, never reunited with their birth parents. It sometimes took years after the war ended for them to discover what had happened to their families left behind in Czechoslovakia, and whether any had survived. By then some had been assimilated into British life.

The show started to take shape during the Syrian refugee crisis and has been spurred by what is happening in Ukraine, and the difficulties faced by refugee families from both countries seeking a haven in the UK.

"I hope one of the things Kinder does,” says Freeman, “is make people think about what actions they can take individually. Of course, the state and government need to do more to help refugees and we can lobby and argue with government to make them see that. But I also think it is about individual responsibility and about starting with the things in front of you, the things you can immediately do and in the hope that your personal actions will start to affect others and create a sense of community. Those personal actions, the small and big acts of kindness, can be more powerful than we sometimes think.”

Cover image from Kinder which plays at the Little Angel Theatre on Fri 13th May and Sat 14th May with three performances each day. Tickets can be found here.

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Lyn Gardner
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