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The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas

18 March 15 words: Victoria Villasenor
The heart breaking story of two young boys who become friends against the odds

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas production photo - two small boys stand facing each other across a barbed wire fence

The theatre version of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was written by John Boyne, adapted by Angus Jackson, and directed by Joe Murphy. It’s the heart breaking story of two young boys who become friends against the odds, with, naturally, a tragic and inevitable ending. The Children’s Touring Partnership do a good job, and even though there were a few slips with regard to lines, they were quickly and smoothly recovered.

Although there are some logic gaps in the story (could a young boy really escape the soldiers notice to sit by a fence talking to someone on the other side?), the adaptation is well done. The set, simple and basic, serves well as a ‘normal’ home, a train, a barracks style home, and, eventually, the fence. At the end, the clothing pile left onstage keeps the despondent feeling in place. Though, at times, it is hard to believe the children (particularly the teenage girl) don’t know what is going on around them (even the Jewish child, watching people disappear), the children in the play do a convincing job of conveying that innocence to the audience.

Cameron Duncan, playing Bruno, is a compelling, ignorant but kind child who simply wishes to play with his friends. Likewise, Sam Peterson, playing Shmuel, is heart-breaking as the young Jewish boy on the other side of the fence. Gretel, the sister, played by Eleanor Thorn, is a believable teenage girl. Her confession at the end feels heart-felt and makes the pulse race with her dreadful knowledge.

Maria the maid, played by Rosie Wyatt, is best when she’s interacting with the other cast members. When she’s speaking directly to the audience, she’s talking-at rather than talking-to. Marianne Oldham, playing the Mother, does an excellent job of moving from supportive wife to frazzled, distressed woman. When Ed Brody, playing Kotler, beats Pavel, the ‘servant’, the beating feels contrived and rather child friendly, especially given the topic at hand. Brody and Pavel both do an excellent job, however, of providing a face to those involved in the war. Phil Cheadle, as the Father, is also credible as a man who simply wants to rise to the top, and who eventually buys his own propaganda. Right to the bitter, devastating end.

Though she wasn’t in it much, Helen Anderson, as the grandmother, has both an exceptional voice and a beautiful, classy stage presence. She conveys clearly her disgust for her son’s position, and it’s sad we see so little of her.

All in all, this is a good production to take the kids to see. It’s child-friendly, even with the intense nature of what it is, and could serve as a good introduction to the Holocaust, if one is needed.

The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas is at the Theatre Royal until 21 March.

Theatre Royal website

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