Depicting the unlikely friendship between two young boys at the heart of the Holocaust, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas follows German born Bruno as he and his family are relocated to the outskirts of Auschwitz after his soldier father is deployed there. Meeting at one of the now infamous barbed wire fences, the two boys, in their childish innocence cut through the prejudice and discrimination of Nazi Germany and offer a new child-like perspective of the cruelty that took place there. My pack of Kleenex at the ready, I had high hopes for director Joe Murphy’s stage version, hoping it would live up to its predecessors in this new form.
It is with regret I have to say this was not quite the case. Focusing on the concept of the story being a ‘fable’, each scene was given a chapter-like title written in a type writer font projected onto the austere wooden backdrop of the stage. An effective way of linking the production back to its novel roots, to begin with this was an interesting and creative staging choice especially to introduce the play. However as this continued with some regularity throughout the first half of the performance, I felt it then began to disrupt the flow, especially for the shorter scenes. The second half of the play, free from so many of these disruptions, was an improvement allowing for greater interaction between the performers and for relationships to develop.
Unfortunately chemistry was something else that was lacking in The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas. It may have been down to first night nerves, but much of the acting felt slightly stilted and projected an air of falseness. Which ultimately affected the relationships between the characters and my engagement with them. The characters of the Mother and the Father I felt were particularly inclined to this wooden style of acting. Although again in the latter half of the production they appeared to relax into their roles more, possibly encouraged by the longer stretches of performance.
Much of the acting felt slightly stilted and projected an air of falseness.
However the children playing the two primary roles of Bruno and Shmeul (played by Cameron Duncan and Sam Peterson) performed admirably given their young age and the immensity of the roles that they undertook. Seeing as I myself could barely recall a single line of dialogue when I was their age, the few slightly fluffed lines can easily be overlooked. Given time I’m sure they could develop the character chemistry which was sadly a little absent in this production. However, there were a few great moments, particularly the heart-wrenching unwitting journey to the gas chambers during the final scene.
The children playing the two primary roles of Bruno and Shmeul performed admirably given their young age and the immensity of the roles.
For me the most impressive element of this production was the magnificent use of staging. Utilising a revolving circular stage platform, the pace or change of scene could be determined by the movement and also allowed the actors to change their perspective in relation to the audience. The moving stage was particularly effective during a scene where Bruno first embarks on an ‘exploration’ resulting in his discovery of the haunting work of art that was the barbed wire fence. Also involving elements of physical theatre and music, the scene was full of energy and tension as Bruno led us to the foreboding fence that would ultimately be his downfall.
The most impressive element of this production was the magnificent use of staging.
The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas, despite the flaws of the production, still has a solid and beautiful story to support it. Boyne’s novel is kept at the heart of the script and the production emphasises the moral message of the fable; that friendship and love can overcome all boundaries – even the barbed wire fences of ‘Out With’.
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