The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is not an easy story, exploring the horror of a World War II Nazi extermination camp through the eyes of two young boys; one a Jewish captive, the other the son of the camp’s Nazi commandant. It is tender, uncomfortable, and thought provoking. Written by John Boyne and first published in 2006 the tale has found mass recognition, being made into a successful motion picture in 2008. The current production, produced by The Children's Touring Partnership has been adapted by Angus Jackson whose skills have allowed the text to transfer to the stage with ease.
The play opens in Berlin. It’s 1943 and we are introduced to a wealthy German family who are clearly benefitting from the events of the War. Later we are introduced to a compelling little boy from Poland whose family has been devastated by the War. Though worlds apart in social standing, circumstance triggers an unlikely friendship.
The set is minimal and the stage feels accessible; there are no barriers between the players and the audience creating a much needed intimacy for such a heartfelt tale. Projection is used effectively, providing a timeline and setting each scene, making the story easy to follow. I have the pleasure of attending a school’s performance and I see many small faces beam with excitement as they soak up the live performance, observing every detail and digesting every word.
The performers are exceptional, expertly cast by Julia Horan CDG & Lotte Hines. As expected the stars of the show are the 2 small boys, Bruno and Shmuel, played respectively at this performance by Jabez Cheeseman and Colby Mulgrew. The audience watch their relationship grow, from humble introductions to an adventure that ensures they are eternally bound. Though fictional, the drama is based on historical events; the backdrop of the known horrors of World War 2 creates reality, encouraging a strong human connection and inspiring a compassion that is not easily conjured.
With stunning compositions by Stephen Warbeck and expressive lighting design by Malcolm Rippeth the show delivers on a number of levels. Powerful and moving, the production allows us to think on the past and look to the future. The sound of a slamming execution chamber door has a profound effect upon the audience; it is important we understand that theatre is not always there to uplift and enlighten, sometimes its purpose is to inspire and encourage us to consider our actions and choices in order to help right the many wrongs that came before us. Though we cannot rewrite the past, the future is in our hands.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas runs at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday 20 June. To book tickets call 0247 655 3055 or visit http://www.belgrade.co.uk/.
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