Leeds Playhouse – until 15 February 2020
Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood
Dr Korczak’s Example, a Leeds Playhouse Production, opens at the intimate Bramall Rock Void and coincides the same time as the Holocaust Memorial Day. It was 75 years ago on that day when the largest Nazi death camp, Aucshwitz-Birkenau, was liberated. It is a very poignant reminder to many who suffered under the clutches of Nazi persecution.
This production is set in 1942 at the Warsaw Ghetto and tells the story of Adzio (Danny Sykes) who is invited to the orphanage, run by Dr Korczak (Robert Pickavance), in order to give him a refuge from the streets. He and Stepanie (Gemma Barnett) live with the other 200 children in the orphanage.
Written by David Greig and directed by James Brining, this story explores one extraordinary man who wrote, cared, nurtured, told stories, and broadcasted news. Dr Korczak believes that the children must have right to have a say in all matters and for them to be themselves. This testament continues during the tough times in the ghetto and amid the rumours about people being sent away to “camps in the country” with no return to the city.
This is a story of survival with many untold and unknown stories stemming from it. Rose Revitt’s staging is cleverly adapted to an eye-catching and run down ghetto and is supported with Jane Lallijee’s lighting and composed sounds by David Shrubsole. The story is told with the clever use of miniature dolls portraying the key characters and some of the orphanage children represented. It works very well with the small staging and minimises distraction with thorough focus on the main characters and the staging ambience that sets the mood and tone for the story.
There are excellent all-around performances from Pickavance, Sykes and Barnett who are supported by a talented and creative production team. This 80 minute production is tragically poignant however it serves an important tribute to a man who believed in the better good in championing children’s rights, being with them till the very end, and for them to loved and respected in freedom. His stories from the diaries starkly remind how the city’s Jewish community were unimaginably persecuted physically, mentally and emotionally. Korczak’s legendary saying is that children “are the people of today” continue to live on today and are internationally chartered today as part of children’s rights. It is profoundly a powerful and moving play which emotively affects one and all now as much as then.