Review: A tale of two boys

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Grand Theatre, Blackpool, until Saturday

John Boyne’s much-lauded children’s novel may still be less than 10 years old, but has made an indelible impression both as a book and subsequent cinema film.

This stage adaptation will be no less affecting on theatre audiences, whether they are already familiar with the story or not.

Boyne’s fable – and that is emphasised here from the outset, in the type-written sur-titles that signpost the drama – imagines an encounter between two nine-year-olds, either side of the barbed wire of a concentration camp.

Bruno is the German commandant’s son, a wide-eyed child whose naive curiosity leads him to misconstrue much of what is happening around him, including Hitler’s title as The Fury, or that his new home is called Out-With.

Behind the wire, Shmuel seems to have much less misconception about his life.

It’s a refracted horror story of course, one in which one German family’s plight seems to be measured against those of six million Jews.

Nevertheless, the Children’s Touring Partnership turn all this into a highly-effective two hours of stage drama, necessarily aimed at younger theatre audiences but equally rewarding for all theatregoers.

Those sur-titles, used as chapter headings across Robert Innes Hopkins’ stark but simple set design, and Andrzej Goulding’s sparing use of digital projections, sum up a ‘less is more’ approach to the whole production.

The acting throughout is universally good and the two young leads – Cameron Duncan and Samuel Peterson on opening night – rightly earn their own applause.

Marianne Oldham is especially effective in conveying the dawning realisation of her husband’s role in the Holocaust, and her own degenerate descent.

The whole cast engage in a staccacto style of delivery rather than, thankfully, any accented language, which heightens the expressionist mood of story telling.

A revolving stage and discreet lighting design are more models of restraint in a production that could so easily have overstepped the mark.

David Upton