Looking to the past, Stephen Unwin’s All Our Children at the Jermyn Street Theatre is a heart-breaking account of what is often referred to as the ‘forgotten holocaust’. The death toll may have been a lot lower, but the Nazi programme, ‘T4’, saw the involuntary euthanasia of hundreds of thousands of people, many of them children.
Though a little slow to get started, Unwin’s account is a fascinating work of fiction which, accurately recreates Nazi Germany and the persecution of the severely disabled. Set in the Winkelheim Clinic; wood panelling, a stove burner and candles create an artificially warm and cosy atmosphere that belies the true reason disabled children are sent there.
We never see a child, but the performances are more than enough to evoke an emotional intensity that many who see this play will struggle to forget. In an early scene, the Doctor ticks through a list of children one by one, it is long and agonising for we have already begun to suspect what this list is really for.
Lucy Speed gives the most beautiful performance as a mother who has found out her son is never coming home, her pain and distress is palpable.
Edward Franklin plays the role of the young SS Officer, Eric, which he builds to a crescendo of terrifying rage. Rebecca Johnson as the maid, Martha, ticks along nicely but then in her final monologue speaks so softly and passionately that it is totally engrossing to watch.
In the role of Victor, Colin Tierney treads a fine line between monster and innocent victim, perhaps finding redemption following a visit from the stoic Bishop Von Galen. Much of the second half of the play concerns these two characters, as the Doctor tries to convince the Bishop that these children cannot possibly contribute to the Aryan Race and simply cost the State too much money. It’s shocking to hear. These atrocities may have happened decades ago, but still we are left pondering how the most vulnerable people in our society are treated today, are they still judged on their contribution or their cost to the State?
All Our Children forces the audience to view a historical abomination through modern values, and it can be uncomfortable to confront these realities. Overall, it’s a magnificent piece of theatre which draws the audience in to an emotional state of turmoil, it’s brilliantly written and staged with delicate humility.