The stated objective of Pipeline Theatre is to produce new works of high production value with design and text developed in tandem. This objective certainly has been achieved in Transports.
The narrative of Transports is very cleverly contrived, interweaving the stories of two young women who are displaced and given shelter in the homes of strangers. The stories are told concurrently with the added complexity that they happen thirty years apart. This means that the two performers dance between eras and characters. The younger actress plays the girl in both stories, Dinah in the 1970’s and Lotte in 1939 storyline. 1939 Lotte turns out to be the younger version of the character first encountered as a mature hausfrau in 1970.
Juliet Welch plays that character; Lotte, in her fifties and living alone with her cat. Lotte has decided to foster a teenager and heroically manages the care and support of Dinah. Welch is very strong in her portrayal of this character, with the slightest hint of a German accent giving away the background of Lotte. Warmth and a fine sense of humour enrich her characterization.
The young girl given shelter from a life of institutions, alternating with periods of being fostered, is Dinah who exhibits all the signs of a neglected child, being surly and sexually advanced for her fifteen years. Hannah Stephens gives a seemingly effortless performance as the damaged and hurt young woman, conveying much often with just the set of her face and body, but also with beautifully delivered dialogue.
In a highly choreographed and visible style that is supported by the excellent design of Alan and Jude Munden, the story neatly segues between the years. The performance space is defined by two sets of parallel, vertical railway tracks. With sharp angles, the clever lighting design sculpts the space.
In 1939, Hannah Stephens’ young Lotte arrives, as a wartime Kindertransport, at the home of Welch’s Mrs Weston. It’s tragic for Lotte to have been separated from her parents but doubly so because everyone around her has decided that she should not be told the reality of her situation. Watching Lotte eventually realize the hidden truth is painful indeed. Stephens does a marvellous job of portraying the complexity and perplexity of this young, innocent girl.
The climax of the play, and the cleverest of juxtapositions of the two stories, occurs at the beginning of the second Act. First, Dinah is attacked by a group of youths as she plays out her sexual bravado and then the story flips and we encounter the young Lotte, in the same costume, daubed with red, victimized for being a German Jew. It is shocking and surprising – very powerful.
Surprisingly for such a convoluted plot there is little confusion between the story lines on stage; the audience follows the narrative easily. The stories remain clearly delineated through the use of on-stage, choreographed changes. These are as subtle as the addition or subtraction of a pair of glasses or wiping off lipstick that has been applied for the previous scene.
The success of this production is due in large part to Jon Welch who wrote and directed this play. The inspiration for the story comes from the real life background of designer Alan Munden whose mother was one of the last Kindertransport children of the war.
In a play of such poignancy and wit, only the beginning and ending is slightly questionable. The story is certainly enough without the device of the opening presentation that foreshadows the end – a video interview of the real Kindertransport in the present day. This video is charming and moving, but its place within the drama itself is debatable. These devices serve only to detract from the acting and the potency of the play. Messages can work through pure drama; not everything needs to be topped and tailed with “reality”.
That said, the pleasure of this charmingly quirky play, with its quality performances and high aesthetic values, is not seriously diminished by its odd beginning and ending.