How do you live, as a Jew, after the Holocaust? This is a question that Evelyn has been trying to avoid all her life. Born in Germany in the 1930s, her parents decide, when she is nine years old, to send her to England so that she can escape the virulent anti-Semitism that is infecting the country. As an outsider in a new land she has to work hard and learn quickly in order to get on with those around her. But as she grows up, this desperation to fit in leads her gradually to cut off all her ties with her former life. It is only when her own daughter Faith discovers the truth about her mother’s past that the adult she has become is forced to confront the child that she was.
There is no shortage of drama about the Holocaust, and in some respects Diane Samuels’ play touches on little that is particularly new. Nonetheless, the show is an acutely observed exploration of the difficulties of assimilation. Polly Teale’s revival neatly slides between the two storylines – that of Evelyn as a young girl, and then as an adult – to give us a compelling portrait of a woman whose survival has become dependent upon her ability to annihilate her past.
As the older Evelyn, Marion Bailey is all cut-glass RP and stiff upper lip – she appears, at least, to have become the perfect middle-class English woman, and she bears little resemblance to the frightened young German girl she was. But it is Matti Houghton who, as Evelyn’s younger self, really captures this painful process of deliberate forgetting. Houghton’s delicately drawn and highly skilled performance enables us to see how she unwittingly plants the seeds of her own future pain. Despite the real tenderness that develops in the relationship between her and her adoptive English mother Lil (Eileen O’Brien), it is clear that this will have only tragic consequences for her real mother Helga (Pandora Colin). It is this unresolved trauma and the guilt that goes with it that drive Samuels’ play, and that show us how the poison of the Holocaust can still remain potent decades after the Nazis were defeated.
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