Writer: Zdenka Fantlova
Adaptor: Jane Arnfield &Mike Alfreds
Director: Mike Alfreds
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Zdenka Fantlova was so enraptured by the soundtracks of the early Broadway musicals that she learned to speak English. The skill was of enormous advantage as the Nazis occupied her homeland. Expelled from school for being Jewish she attended an English speaking boarding school. Zdenka was able to communicate with the English solider who saved her life (and whose name she never learned) by liberating her from Belsen. By that time Zdenka was malnourished, had typhus, weighed just 77 pounds and had only one possession – a tin engagement ring from her first lover.
‘The Tin Ring’ does not try and offer an objective view of the holocaust. Everything is filtered through the perception of a narrator who acknowledges that her memory of key events is dodgy – being unable to recall the date when her father was taken prisoner. Yet this partial approach gives the play a universal appeal. It is horribly easy to relate to someone with such understandable flaws and once you start to get involved her story grips like a vice.
Joint adapters Jane Arnfield and Mike Alfreds convey the necessary exposition that we need to follow the story in a simple but highly effective manner. Zdenka tells her tale to the person teaching her English and interrogating her after the end of the War. But it is the way in which the story is told that is so remarkable.
Director Mike Alfreds takes a bold approach. Staging the play with minimal props and almost non-existent lighting creates an intimate atmosphere. The embarrassing effect is that it feels like you are eavesdropping on a conversation rather than watching a performance. As there is no artificial barrier between Jane Arnfield, the sole performer, and the audience she is able to address us direct. The audience is, therefore, completely absorbed into this highly personal story and gradually the point emerges – these things could happen to any of us.
Arnfield’s performance is technically brilliant; on occasion her voice drops to a whisper that can still be heard at the rear of the theatre. She presents a wide range of characters and her empathy with Zdenka is absolute. Arnfield offers a teen who is slightly jolly-hockey sticks in her breathless excitement yet one capable of being submerged in the unexpected erotic delights of love. Arnfield is able to display the psychological resilience that enabled Zdenka, who was physically unable to even walk after liberation, to cope with the horror and loss she had endured and build a new life. It is this amazing achievement that makes the play uplifting and the conclusion so emotionally startling.
Zdenka remarks that she did not return to her homeland for 50 years ‘But that’s another story’. Hopefully one day we’ll get to hear it.