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Lauren Gauge interviews Fingers Crossed, the makers of Central (Story) Line, a play inspired by Kindertransport - the WW2 scheme that saved 10,000 lives.

When Fingers Crossed Theatre Company performed at The Camden Fringe they garnered a single reviewer from the North West End. So hard is the Off West End and Fringe theatre scene to be deemed of interest to the Press at large. Such is the mission of Off West End to find, champion and recognise outstanding talent, where all theatre starts. But, hailed by Caroline James in her 5-star review as “beautifully directed” with an “extremely talented” cast and “ingeniously set” across the decades to tell a “play that needs to be seen”, the production devised by recent graduates of East 15 Acting School got off to a roaring start.

Following its success in August at Camden’s People Theatre, their show Central (Story) Line transfers to Theatre N16 opening Sunday 9th September.

1.5 million children perished during the Second World War. However, rarely discussed is the scheme that saved 10,000 children. “For a lot of people maybe the Kindertransport is something that rings a bell, but it is not something that has been fully explored. Getting people curious about the lives of the children who arrived in England on the Kindertransport and where they are now, the ones who are still alive is exciting and we feel like we are presenting something very unusual, very unique, poignant but also entertaining. We are a new company and we would love for people to get to know our work,” states director Daniela Atiencia assuredly as she sits with me in the National Theatre alongside her equally alert co-creator, actor and writer Heidi Nielsen.

December 2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport rescue effort, set up by the British Government to bring children in Nazi occupied Europe to safety in Britain. How did the scheme come about? “Before the Second World War broke out there was an event called Kristallnacht, an evening where Nazi Germans decided to destroy and vandalise all Jewish shops. That was a massive turning point,” Nielsen explains, “the Kindertransport scheme was set up for the parents to send their kids unaccompanied to safety.” England was the only country who accepted children, but only children aged new-born – 17 years-old. “One man, Sir Nicholas Winton, saved 669 children. He was a 29-year-old stock broker from London. He went to Czechoslovakia and found families and said “I am trying to take children to safety do you want your children to join?” Nielsen describes, “parents would go to him and leave photos of their children and he would then go back to London with a book with those photographs of the children with their ages, names and meet with families and say, please, take a child.”

Denmark, Sweden, Spain, France, Canada and Colombia are all represented in the company of Fingers Crossed, who bring historical global interest stories to life with vigour, humour and a huge shared passion for collaboratively devised theatre.

Director Daniela Atiencia speaks of her native Colombian theatre scene with pride and hope: “we have the largest Latin American Theatre festival in Bogotá and international companies showcase their work. Bogotá is trying very hard to become a cultural capital.” But she says: “the concept that Colombian’s have of theatre is very clown and circus; theatre is seen as entertainment for the sake of getting a good laugh. I don’t think anybody has been able to showcase a play that speaks a deeper truth.”

How do you find the right balance and go about making history and tragedy funny? “We are not interested in depressing an audience for an hour. Everyday life is funny. It’s not a historical play. We want to showcase humanity and that comes with humour. Most of the writing we came up with in the rehearsal room was comedic, which is a great strength of the performers and we had to wrestle some of that out to balance the story and ensure we didn’t become a sketch show”, comments Atiencia. “To get a release through a laugh is the best thing. For me, as an audience member, I love that,” adds Nielsen.

Danish, actor and writer of Central (Story) Line, Heidi Nielsen is no newcomer to comedy and sketch shows. Having performed in The Review, she became the recipient of the title of the Danish Monarchy, “Kongelig Mayestaits Acteur” (Royal Majesty Actor). “It’s the smallest title of the Danish Monarchy but my biggest award to date and one that is 104 years old in Denmark. The Review is a popular traditional sketch show that the Danish King 105 years ago saw, loved and decided that from then on anyone who joins the company will become Kongelig Mayestaits Acteur. It’s the closest thing I am to being a royal!”

Rarely is a production as ambitious as this to tell the stories of three children, each scene spanning 10 years and the play of 55 minutes covering 67 years of their lives and the socio-political context that fed their experiences. Director, Daniela “We were interested in exploring what happens to a human being as a child who has experienced something so traumatic and seeing the ripple effects of that throughout your life in terms of a different decade and what the country you have been sent to is dealing with at that time and how that would affect you personally. The only way to do that is to see snippets of them throughout their life until the present day. Those who were on the Kindertransport are now in their 90’s and we feel that it is important that we show them at the age they are today and everything that they have done to date to contribute to society.”

With that comes an echo of the Windrush generation scandal and the very real need to understand the contributions of immigrants to British society and educate the British people on the dependence that we have and gratitude we owe to a generation of immigrants. Referencing herself and co-creator Nielsen, Atiencia comments, “we are immigrants and we love living here in the UK, creating work in this country, but today like in Trump’s America, the borders are closing.”
Fingers Crossed create relevant theatre that comments on contemporary issues. “We tie the play to history and current events. With what happened in America this year with children being separated from their parents, it really brought our play full circle with history repeating itself.”

Both Nielsen and Atiencia seem inspired by the creation process and the experimentation in form that devising enables. Much of which comes from the companies shared training at East 15 Acting School. Atiencia confesses, “when I started my training I would have said I have no interest in devised theatre. Probably because I was not confident enough or felt like I did not know myself as a director well enough. Training opened up possibilities. I used to heavily rely on text and I still love working with text but East 15 pushed me to explore other ways of working in a rehearsal room. A big part of creating this play was definitely finding the right people. Having the team you really need to come up with the piece, which we have.”

What comes first the character or the storyline? “In the beginning we had a first draft of a scene with some characteristics of each person. Then we devised on top of that,” answers Nielsen. “This was helped by starting the devising from a scene where they were at an early age. Establishing what sort of relationship they had and falling in love with these characters and then having fun imagining where are they 20 years later; then building the story off of that and our desire to find out more about them,” exclaims Atiencia.

Nielsen declares: “we are working with Safe Passage UK and collecting for their Kindertransport campaign, where they are trying to push the UK government to take in 10,000 children over the next 10 years to live up to the Kindertransport legacy.” Atiencia adds: “one of their main focuses is to actually reunite children who have been separated from their families whether it is parents or relatives, so we are thrilled to partner with them as that is such a strong underlying theme in Central (Story) Line”

They admit: “loads of people do not even know what Kindertransport is” but their aim is to “become part of a movement of artists that will challenge people’s point of view and enhance cultural values across the globe.”

Central (Story) Line by Fingers Crossed runs from 9-13th September at Theatre N16 (Tottenham Hale)
Tickets: https://lineupnow.com/event/central-story-line-1
More information: https://www.fingerscrossedtheatre.com/






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Meet People Show artist Gareth Brierley

Interview with George Mann

Meet Phillip Brook, star of Uncle Barry at the Blue Elephant

Interview with Fin Kennedy

Interview with James Graham

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown V

Interview with Cath Whitefield, now appearing at The Gate

Interview with Lavern Archer

Royal Court Announces Autumn Season

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown IV

Marketing Managers on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown III

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown II

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

Arcola to Create World's First Carbon Neutral Theatre

Interview with Nell Leyshon, Writer of Glass Eels at the Hampstead Theatre

A New Start for the Southwark Playhouse

The Mark Shenton Show

Theatre has moved on - whatever we critics think

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