Transports is effortless. It is beautiful, heartbreaking and thought-provoking. Every moment of it is about connection, about consistency and, most importantly, about love.
The story of 16-year-old Dinah and her foster mother Lotte, Transports seamlessly switches between two timelines, giving us an insight into the youth of 1973, shunted around heartlessly, and the youth of the 1940s – and what differences, or perhaps what parallels, one can draw between them. Dinah is threatening, a typical ‘troubled’ child described as having psychopathic tendencies, while Lotte seems dotty, endearing and in some ways the comic relief of the play. As the days tick by, however, we find that this is not quite true and that Lotte’s past is as troubled as Dinah’s, if not quite for the same reasons. We watch these characters over the course of a few days in their lives, trying – or not – to understand each other, and why it is so important to never, never give up.
Inspired by the poetry and experiences of German evacuee Liesl Munden, Transports echoes the inhumanity and injustices of people in ways that one play should not be able to document with such a short running time (just over two hours, including an interval). It deals sensitively with all kinds of issues including abandonment, psychological and physical trauma, and everything in between. It is, therefore, not a play for those looking for a light evening out. There are, however, veins of comedy running through the piece. As Lotte, Juliet Welch displays wonderfully neurotic comic timing, alongside an ability to play a loneliness which is strangely beautiful: the hollowed shell of a woman who finds a new life in protecting her foster daughter. Transitioning between Lotte and the various other characters who appear as the piece unfolds, she is seamless and never breaks character, no matter how big the difference between the personae she assumes. Similarly Anna Munden, related to Liesl and part of the family operation that went into producing this beautiful work, performs incredibly as the psychopathic Dinah and the vulnerable characters between which she transitions.
I have genuinely never seen something so beautifully performed on stage. In such an intimate setting it could be difficult to hold the attention of an audience whilst your partner is changing or moving a part of the set, but it is so seamless that there is nothing one could fault about it. The piece combines cultures and languages, histories and futures, and builds bridges between them to produce an incredible, heartbreaking and captivating story.
With twists at every corner, Transports is a sensitive and thoughtful piece, which deals with damage in reasonable and realistic ways without ever engaging in melodrama. It is beautiful and gut-wrenching, but at the same time hopeful and caring. A must-see in a limited run – missing out is missing a lot.
Transports is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 21 September. For more information and tickets, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website.