Cornwall-based theatre company Pipeline Theatre are back at the The Pleasance with a revival of their debut production Transports. Set in the 1970s, the play explores the theme of displacement through the characters Lotta, a German immigrant who arrived in England on the Kindertransport during the Second World War, and Dinah, a volatile teenager who has moved from one foster home to the next. Although the company explore a very troubling subject, the humorous aspects of the play allow it to be a very thought provoking, yet entertaining piece of work.
On initial meeting, Lotta (Juliet Welch) and Dinah (Hannah Stephens) seem very different from each other: Lotta likes to listen to the radio and dust her ceramic kittens, while Dinah would rather smoke cigarettes and read about murder and sex. But as the narrative continues, and the action switches between the 70s and late 30s, parallels begin to appear between the two. Just as they begin to communicate, something shocking happens which changes everything, especially the relationship that was starting to develop between them.
Both performers are spectacular on stage. Welch is loveable as Lotta, desperately trying to take care of Dinah, but also fighting with the memory of her own past. She switches effortlessly between characters, as she also plays young Lotta’s carer Mrs Weston. Equally, Stephens is a force on stage, triumphantly portraying Dinah’s troubled character, but also allowing the audience to see a very vulnerable side to her, which is again reflected in her portrayal of the young Lotta.
The theme of displacement is constantly present throughout the play, and writer and director Jon Welch weaves it brilliantly into the text, as well as use video projections to present old memories. This theme is reflected in particular with the imagery created by the set, designed by Alan and Jude Munden. Two rail tracks stand upright in the middle of the stage while the action is played out around them, and at various points during the performance a pair of bus seats is brought to the stage. There are constant indications of journeys, especially through objects as well, such as Lotta’s bag which is always on stage. The displacement continues when the action switches between 1970, to the late 1930s, when we see the young Lotta adjusting to her new life in England. The switch between the two time frames is smooth, but the constant switching can become jarring, evoking the characters’ frustrations and feelings. Like the action on stage, their lives are thrown from one place to another because of the very unfortunate circumstances they were both forced into. The combination of the set with the writing and great performances allows these emotions to be reflected effortlessly, making the play extremely engaging.
For a play which primarily focuses on the affects of displacement, Welch’s play does not feel displaced at all, especially within the current refugee crisis. It is mentioned at the curtain call that Pipeline are actually raising money for The Good Chance Calais, which is the theatre space based in the Jungle. The spectacular set design and beautiful writing makes Transports an extremely thought-provoking play, and the terrific performances bring this an energy that makes it an excellent piece of theatre.