Jane Arnfield. Actress and founder of Human Remain, whose aim is to make extraordinary theatre about ordinary people who find themselves in extreme situations. One such person is Zdenka Fantlova, a 93 year old Holocaust survivor whose haunting memoir ‘The Tin Ring’ has been adapted by Jane into the single-actor performance that I watched tonight at the Royal Festival Hall and which has previously been performed in a diverse range of venues, including the Czech city where Zdenka grew up.
Zdenka had what she describes as a happy childhood – one filled with music, books and love. That all changed in 1940, when the Nazis invaded. Zdenka remembers the events of that day vividly: the tanks rolled in on a Thursday morning, at 6am – and to her delight she didn’t have to go to school, which she was relieved about because she hadn’t finished her geography project about the Sahara Desert. Isn’t it interesting how seemingly mundane memories can remain with someone throughout a lifetime that has experienced so many horrors?
A few short months later Zdenka’s world was shattered when the Gestapo stormed her family’s home, beating up her father in front of his wife & children and dragging him away despite their anguished pleas. They would never see him again. Fear, Zdenka, says, became the prevailing emotion – at home, at school, out shopping – everywhere. And rightfully so – two years later she was deported, with the rest of her family, eventually ending up at Bergen Belsen after spells in no fewer than five concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
One of the particularly interesting things about Zdenka’s memoir and therefore this production is that while she does, of course, talk about the horrors of the concentration camps, she also focuses on her post-war experiences. Zdenka was half-dead from typhus by the time the camps were liberated – and every other member of her family was dead, as was her first love, Arno, who had given her the tin ring after whom she named her memoir.
Taken to Sweden, Zdenka managed to make a new life for herself, going on to forge a career as an actress and, eventually, as a human rights campaigner. There is so much more that I would like to say about this amazing woman and about the equally amazing play that Jane Arnfield has created, whose simplicity – performed by one woman, with one chair, in one costume, with one lighting state – is nothing short of compelling. But I would find it hard to match Jane’s own eloquence when she says of ‘The Tin Ring’: “The essence of this performance is to allow the one voice to acknowledge the silent, speak for the speechless – and never forget.”