“Don't make it worse by thinking it's more painful than it actually is,” we are told by the Jewish doctor who tends to Bruno's knee wound, in a moment that perfectly encapsulates the play's moving juxtaposition of childhood against the terror of the Holocaust.
Being one of the few people who haven't read the book or seen the film, I wasn't sure what to expect when I watched the world premiere of the The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas at Wolverhampton Grand. What unfolded before me was a beautiful production of a story that everyone needs to experience.
Produced by the renowned Children's Touring Partnership, the impressive credits of which include acclaimed productions of Swallows and Amazons and Goodnight Mister Tom, this is an engaging adaptation of the thought-provoking and poignant novel by John Boyne.
Set during World War II, the production plays out through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the nine-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp, whose forbidden friendship with Shmuel, a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence, has startling and devastating consequences.
The story is told by a talented cast, particularly Tom Hibberd, who plays the role of Shmuel. At just 9 years old, this marks his theatre debut and he gives a captivating performance as the young Polish Jew imprisoned in Auschwitz. Helen Anderson, as the feisty Grandmother, also has a commendable stage presence in the relatively short time that her character appears.
The staging, which features a revolving set, provides a minimal yet versatile platform on which the story is cleverly played out against a backdrop of interesting projections. Well choreographed movement, notably when Bruno goes exploring, gives the play a dreamlike quality at times, the childlike nature of which contrasts effectively with the ever-present horror of the Holocaust throughout.
The relationship between Bruno and Shmuel is sadly not always given enough time to develop, with too much emphasis placed on setting the scene in the - sometimes slow - first half. Since the play primarily focuses on the loss of innocence and the importance of friendship, this was an unfortunate weakness in an otherwise enthralling production.
The Children's Touring Partnership production of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas runs until Saturday 13 June at Wolverhampton Grand. For more information or to book, click here or call the Box Office on 01902 429 212.
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