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The Tin Ring attracts new and diverse audiences to theatre

  • Date: 30 July 2013
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: North
Jane Arnfield in The Tin Ring. Jane Arnfield as Zdenka Fantlová in The Tin Ring, Keith Pattison

The Tin Ring, a Holocaust survivor’s memoir adapted for the stage, received Grants for the arts funding to help develop the show, making its world premiere at The Lowry before reaching audiences across the UK and internationally. 

Background

The Tin Ring tells the true story of Zdenka Fantlová, a Holocaust survivor who was rescued from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by an unknown British soldier. From the happiness of her home in Czechoslovakia to the horrors of the Holocaust, The Tin Ring emerges as a profoundly uplifting love story, examining the human capacity for triumph in the face of adversity. 

The story was adapted for the stage from Zdenka Fantlová’s memoir by Jane Arnfield – who played Zdenka in an extraordinary solo performance – and acclaimed theatre director Mike Alfreds. The Tin Ring premiered at The Lowry in Manchester in September 2012 and then transferred to the Lit & Phil Library in Newcastle upon Tyne. A successful national and international tour followed, with performances at venues including the University of Lodz in Poland, a conference for trauma refugees in Norway, and Speaker’s House in Westminster. The Tin Ring has also been developed into an educational programme for children and young people. 

Arnfield says that Grants for the arts funding was crucial to The Tin Ring’s success: "We believe the project’s outcomes and its future potential prove that when artists are supported and trusted to get on with making the work by a funding body, such achievements are possible."

Developing the memoir for performance

The Tin Ring’s journey as a theatrical production began in 2009, when performer Jane Arnfield read Zdenka’s memoir, My Lucky Star, and decided it could work as a piece of theatre. She approached Zdenka with the idea and to her surprise Zdenka, who is now 91 and living in London, was very open to it. Arnfield recalls, "The first thing she said was 'I really don’t know how you'd do it, but why not have a go?' which was extraordinary, so generous and so open".

Arnfield enlisted the support of director Mike Alfreds who helped adapt the piece and also directed it. His breadth of experience – Alfreds founded Shared Experience and has staged over 200 productions – coupled with Jane’s own background as a solo performance artist, and former Artistic Director of Holocaust Memorial Day, were key to the work’s success. 

Another important factor is its simplicity. The Tin Ring is a 68-minute solo performance with minimal props (one chair), one lighting state (on) and one costume. The pared down nature of the piece enabled it to be performed in a range of venues and locations, and as part of different and diverse contexts – from theatres to universities and conference centres.  

Success with national and international audiences

The Tin Ring is a truly exceptional piece of theatre and responses to it have been very positive. One audience member commented that it was "one of the most powerful performances" they had ever seen. Robert Robson, Artistic Director of The Lowry said, "The Tin Ring is an incredible, inspiring story, brought to life by one of the country's finest performers in Jane Arnfield, and most talented directors – Mike Alfreds. The Lowry is incredibly proud to have premiered this work in Salford."

Following a hugely successful publicity campaign, all performances at The Lowry and the Lit & Phil Library were sold out and there were waiting lists for returns. The audience was diverse, spanning ages and communities – from school children and students to senior citizens and refugee and asylum networks. Half the audience at the Lit & Phil Library bought concession tickets, revealing the huge number of students and senior citizens, while 83 per cent of the audience at The Lowry were first time visitors there, reflecting the show’s capacity to reach new audiences.

In addition to the sold out performances in the north east, The Tin Ring was performed at conferences at the universities of Agder in Norway and Lodz in Poland. In January, The Tin Ring was performed by invitation at Speaker's House in Westminster, and in April at a conference in Bergen, Norway, for therapists and care-givers who work with traumatised refugees. The play will also be performed at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.

Arnfield has also worked with The Forge to develop an educational programme inspired by The Tin Ring which explores how young people can equip themselves with emotional survival skills. Suitcase of Survival is currently being delivered in schools across County Durham and The Forge hope to roll it out internationally.

Find out more about National Lottery funded arts projects.