The Significance of the Ratcatcher in the Play "Kindertransport" by Diane Samuels

Contemporary British-Jewish Theatre

Term Paper, 2017

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3



Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The Ratcatcher
2.1. Origins - The Pied Piper of Hamlin
2.2. Daniel Samuels’s Ratcatcher

3. Kindertransport - The Ratcatcher’s part in the play
3.1. The Ratcatcher in different Parts
3.2. The Ratcatcher and National Socialism
3.3. The Ratcatcher and Music
3.4. The Ratcatcher and Trains
3.5. The book: The Ratcatcher of Hamlin

4. Conclusion and Outlook

Works Cited

1. Introduction

“The truth about the Ratcatcher is that he cannot ever be entirely understood. He is essentially mysterious. It is best to approach him, when interpreting his role in Eva’s story, with a sense of imagination, and be open to a host of possibilities” (Samuels, Author’s Guide 120).

In 1993 the play Kindertransport by Diane Samuels was performed for the first time by the Soho Theatre Company. Ever since, the play has been performed in various productions all over the world and still celebrates massive success. The piece focuses on the story of a little Jewish girl named Eva, who has to leave her family and home in Germany to travel to a foster family in England. The play depicts Eva’s experiences with the Kindertransport and shows her new life in England as a young girl and later on as an older woman who has a grown-up daughter. Next to Eva, her mother her foster mother and her daughter, there is one other noteworthy character, the Ratcatcher. This mythic character is an omnipresent figure that accompanies Eva through the whole play.

This research paper will examine the significance and functions that the character the Ratcatcher in the play Kindertransport obtains. All of the following research will be used to confirm or negate the subsequent thesis: The Ratcatcher is an essential character in the play Kindertransport. In order to do so, an emphasis will be put on the origin of this character, namely the Pied Piper, and the differences between these two individuals will be highlighted. Furthermore, the play will be closely analysed and the most important themes in reference to the Ratcatcher and his story will be explored.

The final part of this research paper will then summarise all of the findings, it will explain how Diane Samuels uses the character of the Ratcatcher in her play and the stated thesis will be confirmed or negated. Eventually, an outlook will be given, which focuses on further possibilities to analyse the behaviour of the Ratcatcher and the relationships he obtains during the play.

2. The Ratcatcher

One of the protagonists of Diane Samuels’s play Kindertransport is the Ratcatcher who is a fictional character that is based on the German folktale about the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Although the original story is not mentioned in Samuel’s play, it is important to consider the origins of the idea for the Ratcatcher when analysing the play. Furthermore, one can compare how the mythical character is originally described and how Diane Samuels created her figure and discuss why she fabricated him in this way. Hence, in the following chapter, the most familiar version of the Pied Piper will be summarized and a comparison between the German mythic character and Samuel’s Ratcatcher will be drawn.

2.1. Origins - The Pied Piper of Hamlin

The Legend of the Pied Piper goes back to the medieval times in Germany and has been passed down in folklore and tales ever since (Olsson 1). In 1816 the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm rewrote the story by using eleven different sources and in 1849 Robert Browning composed a poem about the Pied Piper, which is considered to be the most famous version of the tale (Lassner 201). The story deals with the city of Hamelin which suffers from a plague of rats and hires the pied piper to get rid of the animals by playing a certain tune on his flute which leads them away. However, the mayor and the people of the town refuse to pay the Piper his fee. As an act of revenge, he uses his magic instrument to lead the children away from their families into an enchanted mountainside where they disappear forever (Olsson 1). Although the content of the story is rather similar in most versions, there are various concepts concerning the origins of the fable. For example, some critics state that the tale represents a plague or a children’s crusade and other sources point out that the story could be based on the recruitment of settlers for new colonies in Eastern Europe (Lassner 201).

2.2. Diane Samuels’s Ratcatcher

Diane Samuels owned an illustrated edition of the Robert Browning poem about the Pied Piper which served as an inspiration and the basis for creating the character of the Ratcatcher. However, it is substantial to note that Samuels did not name her character the Pied Piper but invented a new name for the mythic part (Samuels, Author’s Guide 119). In German, the Pied Piper is called “der Rattenfänger” which literally translates to Ratcatcher. This change of the character name might be due to the fact that Samuels adjusted the story to create a fictional book that focuses on the elements of cautionary tales. These kinds of stories, like the German Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann, deal with what might happen to children who misbehave. In Diane Samuels’s play, the character first takes on the shape of a cloud and when he descends from the sky, the Ratcatcher transforms into a very frightening human form (Samuels, Kindertransport 120). “[…] and the shadow growing legs […] and strong arms and spiky nails […] and eyes sharp as razors” (1.1.11-13 32).

To underline that the character is not a normal human being, but a creature that can transform into a cloud and other forms, the Ratcatcher is never fully shown within the play and the audience only sees his shadow looming on the stage. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung describes a shadow as “the thing a person has no wish to be” (Jung qtd. in Samuels, Author’s Guide 121). Samuels uses this device further to underline that the Ratcatcher can be seen as Eva’s dark side, which stands for her guilt, shame and fear concerning her past. Moreover, the author states that she wanted to connect the mythic figure to represent “the dark heart of everything that is repressed and feared” and at the same time connect him to childish imagination and fear (123).

In the following part, the play will be analysed in reference to the Ratcatcher’s functions and significance in Kindertransport. Furthermore, Samuels’s statements concerning this character will be taken into account and parts that underline the author’s claims will be discussed.

3. Kindertransport - The Ratcatcher in the Play

The Ratcatcher appears in various forms and shapes on stage in Diane Samuel’s play. Therefore, not only the direct occurrences of the Ratcatcher’s shadow need to be analysed but also the instances where the book and the story centred around the mythic figure are mentioned, need to be taken into account. Furthermore, the actor who portrays the Ratcatcher also plays four different male characters, that have a special relationship with Eva. First of all, these encounters need to be considered and the relevance of the same actor portraying all these characters will be discussed. Moreover, there are certain reoccurring main themes in the play that bear a strong connection to the Ratcatcher. Hence, the characters relationship to National Socialism, music and trains will be looked at and assumptions about their significance in reference to the Ratcatcher will be expressed. Finally, the importance of the book containing the story will be mentioned and scenes where the existence of the volume plays a substantial part will be analysed.

In order to thoroughly analyse the Ratcatcher’s behaviour and his significance in the limited extent of this research paper, an emphasis will be put on Eva’s experiences and her relationship with the mythic figure. Lastly, even though Eva changes her name to Evelyn as an adult woman, this term paper will refer to the character only as Eva, and when needed draw a distinction between Eva and young Eva.

3.1. The Ratcatcher in different Parts

Samuels makes use of the dramatic device of “doubling” in her play Kindertransport. This means that one actor plays more than one role within a production (Perks, Porteous 190). All the characters, except the Ratcatcher, are specific one-dimensional character types. Moreover, all men are in a position of power and authority, they have similar personality traits and represent danger in varying degrees and ways to Eva.

In the beginning of the play, all the characters are briefly explained and it is stated that the actor who portrays the Ratcatcher also plays the parts of the Nazi Border Official, the English Organiser, the Postman and the Station Guard (Samuels, Kindertransport 16). Therefore, one can draw a direct link between the character of the Ratcatcher and the other characters. However, it is important to note that the figure of the Ratcatcher is never fully seen and it is clearly stated in the play that only his shadow is presented on stage. Thus, some audience members might not directly draw the connection between the characters and therefore, the parts need to be analysed in and without reference to the Ratcatcher. In the following chapter, this relationship, the meaning of those roles and the importance of their encounters with Eva will be discussed.

The first time Eva encounters the actor of the Ratcatcher in a different role he is playing a Nazi Border Official, whom she meets on the train ride to England. Here, the officer is a figure of dominance, who demonstrates his power over the child by only talking to Eva in harsh commands and frightens the girl by threatening to throw her off the train, “might have to remove you from the train” (1.1.16 35). Moreover, the Nazi finds her forbidden music instrument and makes Eva demonstrate her lacking skills with the mouth organ. Although he does not take the instrument away from the girl and allows her to keep it, this kind gesture is overshadowed by the Nazi humiliating Eva by telling her: “you need more practice” (1.1.16 36) and thereby demonstrating the amount of power he possesses over the child. This dominance is further underlined by the Nazi taking Eva’s money and giving her a toffee instead (36). After the meeting with the Officer, Eva is very mad, throws the piece of candy away and wishes that the officer would die. “Hope the rats come and eat up all your remains until there’s nothing left” (1.1.12-13 37). It is interesting, that Eva’s first idea about how the Nazi could die, has something to do with rats and that they have a positive connotation, as they kill the evil man.

The second character that is played by the actor of the Ratcatcher is an English Officer who Eva meets after she has arrived in England and is waiting for her foster parents to pick her up. In the beginning, the man tries to be nice to Eva but as they both do not understand the other’s language, he becomes frustrated with the girl and loses his temper (41). Hence, Eva reacts very frightened to the Officer’s outburst and pleads with the authority figure to not send her back to Germany. “Bitte schicken sie mich nicht nach Deutschland zurück” (1.2.4-5 43).

The next man that Eva encounters in the play, also played by the same actor, is a postman who the girl sees on a regular basis. Although the man seems to be kind to Eva, he is very interested in her German heritage and asks her inappropriate questions about her country. For example, the postman impersonates Hitler, he insults all German people by saying that they smell and he makes Eva do the ”Hitlergruß”. Moreover, he does not only directly remind Eva of her heritage by confronting her with her past, he also indirectly acts as a link to Germany, as he delivers a parcel containing the Rattenf ä nger book (73).

The last encounter is with a Station Guard in England, who, like the last two characters, is very nice to her in the beginning. “Can I help you, love?” (2.1.13 87). However, as soon as he realises that Eva is a foreigner he becomes very suspicious and forcefully asks her where she is from. Eva is scared to answer, as she thinks that the Guard might send her back to Germany and so she tries to get out of the situation. “I don’t live there anymore” (2.1.27 87).

All of those male characters in the play are figures of authority that possess great power over the young girl and most of them have the ability to send Eva back to Germany and prevent her from escaping the Hitler regime. During their individual encounter with Eva, the men connect her to her German heritage which adds a sense of danger to their meetings. The Postman forces the Jewish girl to do the “Hitler-Gruß”, the Station Guard accuses her of being a foreign spy and the Nazi Border Officer threatens to throw Eva off the train if she misbehaves. All of these interactions take place during Eva’s early childhood in England and they show how the girl slowly starts to deny her German heritage to prevent the possibility of having to leave her new English home.

3.2. The Ratcatcher and National Socialism

As already described in the prior part, one obvious connection between National Socialism and the Ratcatcher can be seen by Samuels’s use of doubling in the play. She lets the actor who portrays the Ratcatcher play a Nazi Border Official and an English Postman who makes Eva do the “Hitlergruß”. Here, Samuels draws a strong connection between the Ratcatcher and those parts and shows how these characters all become one paramount fear for Eva. Moreover, it is apparent that Eva’s fear is mostly centered around being sent back to Germany because she, as a Jewish girl, might not survive going back home.

To underline this, the author created the figure of the Ratcatcher with certain abilities, so that he can pose as an even bigger threat to the young girl. “A terrifying man with razor eyes, long fingernails, hair like rats’ tails who could see wherever you were, whatever you did, no matter how careful you tried to be, who could get in through sealed windows and closed doors… “(2.1.6-11 99). Here, Eva explains the power that the Ratcatcher obtains, as he can go wherever he wants and is always able to see and hear what one is doing. This can be seen as a direct comparison to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, where there were spies everywhere and one of the only possibility to stay save was flee the country. Hence, the Ratcatcher and the Nazis share the same abilities. This comparison is further underlined by the way the Ratcatcher punishes his victims in the tale. “He’ll burn my fingers till they melt […] He’ll pull out my hair one piece at a time” (1.2.22-24 66). Although these are only a few of his many cruel ways how the Ratcatcher treats his victims, one can see similarities to the Concentration Camps, where the Nazis shaved Jewish people’s hair off and burned them alive.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


The Significance of the Ratcatcher in the Play "Kindertransport" by Diane Samuels
Contemporary British-Jewish Theatre
Technical University of Braunschweig
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
439 KB
Diane Samuels, Contemporary Jewish Theater, play, analysis, rats, ratcatcher, the pied piper, kindertransport, master of education
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2017, The Significance of the Ratcatcher in the Play "Kindertransport" by Diane Samuels, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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