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Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas | Review


A touring production with the Children’s Trust Partnership of A Boy in the Striped Pyjamas came to the Rose Theatre, Kingston 28th April- 2nd May 2015.

A poignant true adaptation based on the novel by John Boyne, tells the story through the young, innocent eyes of Bruno. A 9 year old boy from Berlin living through the Second World War whose Father works closely with the Fuhrer or ‘Fury’ (called by Bruno) is relocated to live in Auschwitz (known to Bruno and sister, Gretal as ‘Out-with’). A typical boy who lives for adventure befriends Shmuel who unbeknown to him is a Jewish prisoner living in a concentration camp.

Robert Innes-Hopkin’s stage design was although minimalist, effective in creating the hostile emptiness of Bruno’s new house. This was emphasized by the use of lighting. A warm, friendly glow surrounded the characters in (too many unnecessary) flashbacks but made for a great contrast to the sombre, dull present day. The large wooden studded wall at the back of the stage was cleverly used as a canvas for projection, setting the scene where lack of set was compromised. Scene changes transitioned smoothly with an appropriately composed soundtrack by Stephen Warbeck. Each chapter from the book was spelt out in typewriter style- a familiar sound to Bruno ‘there were always so many visitors to the house…women with typewriters that he had to keep his mucky hands off ’. This was a lovely touch and gave the production a raw quality that worked well for the story-telling narrative and overall feel of the production that highlights Boyne’s view 'It is a fable and not a literal account.'

The action took place on the wooden stage that at times rotated which gave the effect of time-passing and was especially effective in Bruno’s adventure scene, teamed with Warbeck's score it was a highlight of the performance! The use of physical theatre was very impressive: darkly-dressed ‘workmen’ carried Bruno out of the window, somersaulting and swooping effortlessly in slow-motion through the air, vaulting and crawling under fence posts as he acted out his childish explorations through the ‘out of bounds’ woods and nearing the camp to where he meets Shmuel. The scene captured the essence of free-spirited fun and that care-free innocence of childhood. This fast-paced captivating scene helped to break up the static action of his timid and often awkward meeting with Shmuel. The revolve was also used to great effect to show the meeting of Shmuel either side of the great barbed-wired fence as if these two boys living seemingly parallel lives were the only two boys in the world, cementing their friendship and bond. The imposing wooden projection screen later became the infamous gas chamber door: the central focus of the final harrowing scene. It became very powerful as if it was the elephant in the room- the real horrific outcome and Bruno's 'Final Adventure' had been present throughout the play and the character’s lives for-telling the chilling feeling that Bruno had when they moved: 'I think this is a bad idea'. 

At the heart of the performance with a great onerous task were the performances of the two young boys Bruno (Jabez Cheeseman for this performance) and Shmuel (Colby Mulgrew for this performance) both appropriately aged. Cheeseman’s Bruno was inquisitive and childishly abrupt whose strong presence on stage was slightly spoiled by the fact he tended to gabble his words. sMulgrew gave a hauntingly vulnerable performance as Shmuel; fragile, cowering at the sight of soldier Kotler (Ed Brody) and perplexed but accepting of his bewildering situation. Their relationship was poignant in the face of so much horror. Gretal (Eleanor Thorn) was a beautifully arrogant older sister to Bruno and awkwardly flirtatious towards Kotler. I felt her transition from prissy girl to Nazi enthusiast was lost down to the fact she was an older Gretal-to how she is related in the novel bringing all her dresses instead of dolls. It was a shame that this production took a more subtle approach as she becomes brainwashed by the Hitler Youth movement.

The authoritative, over-disciplined Father (Phil Cheadle) presented an appropriately cold character and contrasted well to the busy maid Maria (Rosie Wyatt) who confidently narrated the story as well as shone out as a friendly-face to Bruno and the audience, breaking the seriousness of the adult figures around him. Fit and muscular Kotler (Ed Brody) conveyed the brutality of the Nazi regime both in his behaviour to the people around him but ultimately how his superiors treated him. A superb performance was given by Marianna Oldham with a well-thought out unhinging characterization of Mother shown in the unraveling of her hair and the natural slur in her voice as she deteriorates under the pressures of attempting to protect her children whilst living so closely to the traumas of War. Pavel (Robert Styles) held a fatherly likability however he looked too healthy, held himself too up-right and I felt spoke too much to be a concentration camp inmate which was a great shame.

This adaptation captured the innocence at the heart of the story and was very true to the novel. However the drastic contrast between reality and Bruno’s rose-tinted envision of the camp was lost- possibly due the Propaganda video scene being cut. This production was a spine-tingling, and tear-jerking performance of John Boyne’s novel chillingly ended with the line “All this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again—not in this day and age." If only. 


This production is touring until 27th June 2015