German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon created a visual record of her emotional world before being killed in the Holocaust. Miriam Craig talks to the Finchley actress playing her in a dramatised version of her life.

It was while in hiding in the south of France after having fled Berlin in 1939 that Charlotte Salomon created the collection of more than 1,000 gouache paintings that is now in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.

Conceived as a musical play and divided into acts and scenes, the paintings tell the story of Salomon's often traumatic life, turning the friends and family members closest to her into characters with fictional names and exploring some of her darkest moments.

Salomon and her husband were taken to Auschwitz in 1943, but the paintings survived because Salomon entrusted them to a friend shortly before the transport to the concentration camp arrived.

In Lotte's Journey, a new work by playwright and actress Candida Cave, the darkness of this final journey is set against the myriad of colours of Salomon's paintings, with scenes on the train to Auschwitz are paralleled with flashbacks of her life.

Selina Chilton, of Etchingham Court, who plays Salomon at various ages throughout her life, admits that at times rehearsals can be 'pretty depressing' but also says she feels 'privileged' to be telling the artist's story: "Charlotte may have been affected by this suicide gene that seemed to run through her family - her grandmother committed suicide at the outbreak of war, and Charlotte then found out that her mother had also killed herself. But she also had a great sense of humour, and was very insightful."

Miss Chilton, who is 26 - the same age Salomon was when she perished at Auschwitz - has previously taken parts in a mixture of drama and musical theatre, including The Drowsy Chaper-one and Mamma Mia, and she is set to take the lead role in the Christmas show at the Almeida Theatre, Islington, called Marianne Dreams.

The record Salomon left us of her life contains immense episodic detail of her experiences. Yet there are still questions left unanswered when it comes to decided what is fact and what is fiction.

Miss Chilton explains: "We've been left with these paintings, but we can't be completely sure that that's really what was happening, because it's what was happening in her mind. For example, there are numerous sexual clinches with Amadeus - that was the name she gave to her friend Alfred Wolfsohn - and for our production we take those as read. But who knows how much of it really happened?"

But at the same time, Miss Chilton says, "The thing which makes it so powerful is that she's a real person, real history, who really went through these horrific and wonderful things."

There will always be questions about Salomon's life that we don't know the answer to, and it is this uncertainty between fact and fiction that makes it such fertile subject-matter for writers and actors.

Lotte's Journey is on at the New End Theatre, New End, Hampstead, from now until November 25.

Tickets cost £18 (£15 concessions) and are available from the box office on 0870 033 2733.

An exhibition of photographs of Salomon's paintings will also be on display at the theatre during the play's run.