Dr Korczak’s Example @ Arcola Theatre, London

cast list
Philip Rham, Craig Vye, Amaka Okafor

directed by
Amy Leach
Dr Korczak’s Example is a heart-wrenching tale based on the true story an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw during the Second World War.

Much like the recent film adaptation of John Boyne’s novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Dr Korczak’s Example is geared towards children without sugar coating the facts.

Millions died in the Warsaw Ghetto and those that didn’t either died when they were deported to concentration camps or lived in constant fear that they would be next: Dr Korczak’s orphanage was a rare symbol of hope.
Amy Leach’s production, a transfer from Manchester’s Royal Exchange, is a moving piece of theatre, demonstrating how, in a place which saw humankind at its most depraved, the kindness of the human spirit was still able to survive.

Leach’s Brechtian production has the three performers directly addressing the audience, explaining who they will be playing and what we are about to see: Philip Rham plays Korczak, Amaka Okafor plays the orphaned Stephanie and Craig Vye plays Adzio, the newest arrival to the orphanage. As the story unfolds, the actors continue to step out of character to explain what they cannot show; this creates a sense of detachment. The play delivers the facts and refuses to wallow in misery.

Rham, Okafor and Vye are superb. Whilst their performances are aimed at a younger audience they never patronise, nor alienate an older audience. Rham is heart-breaking and endearing as a man capable of great tolerance and kindness, even when faced with such adversity. Okafor and Vye, both playing children, are equally touching; there is nothing sadder than seeing a child without hope and these children are very well aware of the world in which they live, but they are still children and Okafor and Vye’s performances contain moments of cheekiness and vulnerability.

It may only have a small cast but, through Leach’s imaginative direction, you could be watching a cast of twenty as sunflowers and shoes represent the other orphans, the sound of a cello creates a fly buzzing around the stage and a Nazi uniform hanging off a cello case becomes a member of the Gestapo. Designed to appeal to a child’s imagination, this production draws you into the world of Dr Korczak’s orphanage which was run as much by the orphans themselves as it was by him.

This production is based on a true story, and stories of the Warsaw Ghetto tend not to have happy endings. However as they approach the end of their story as well as sadness there is a real sense of triumph that this man, Dr Korczak, succeeded in hanging onto a sense of truth, honesty and justice within the orphanage, while the rest of the world fell apart.

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