What makes a play into a classic? Who better to ask than playwright Diane Samuels ahead of a new touring production of her play Kindertransport, marking 25 years since it was first produced.
“I suppose it addresses universal themes,” she says, “because in every generation children have to be sent to safety away from their parents. The play asks what happens if that split is never examined.”
The tour, which opened at the Queens Theatre, Hornchurch last night, stars Suzan Sylvester, who played the daughter in the original production all those years ago.
Kindertransport was on last year at the Chickenshed Theatre in north London, and Samuels’s most recent project with them has just ended. This is Me uses fragments of Samuels’s childhood memories, written on pieces of cloth. Actors perform them, in an order picked by the audience, thus making something unique and different every time. The name came from a photograph she found of herself aged five in her grandparents’ garden in Southport. “On the back was written ‘This is me’,” she explains, the perfect title for a work that explores selfhood, and in April she will be running small workshops in which writers can explore this kind of life-writing.
Samuels, 56, has yet another project coming up, a musical, The Rhythm Method, written with Gwyneth Herbert, about contraception, a show supported by the Wellcome Trust, which will be shown at the Bush theatre in May. Then there’s another showing of Kindertransport, in Nottingham in October. It has been put on all over the world, and is a set text for GCSE and A level English Literature. “Sometimes you have a feeling that a piece has a long life in it,” Samuels says.
She has that feeling about yet another of her current projects. She has been working with musician Maurice Chernick — known to many as the leader of klezmer band Shir — on an oratorio based on the life of the biblical character Dinah. Dinah’s story, as a victim of sexual assault, is one that resonates in this age of #metoo. “It’s a very violent and powerful story. We are giving her a voice.” The project feels all the more personal as Dinah is Diane’s Hebrew name.
The next step is staging the oratorio as a concert at Islington’s Union Chapel, a concert that will be recorded and released as a CD, then used to promote the project. To do this, Samuels and Chernick need backers, and they are hoping that JC readers will respond. “We would appreciate it very much; it’s an exciting project to be involved with.”
She and Chernick wrote plays together during the 1970s at King David High School in Liverpool, and were part of Harold House’s youth drama group. “I had a very, very Jewish upbringing. I felt the world was Jewish. I was very rooted,” she says, although now her Jewishness expresses itself mostly through her work. “I guess I’m a bit of a free spirit. At heart, I’m an anarchist.”
To book for life-writing workshops or find out about backing the oratorio contact email@example.com