30 April 2015

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas at the Rose Theatre was a good production of a reasonably crafted tale

I had vaguely heard of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas before but had little idea of what it was about so I needed something of a nudge to go and see it.

That nudge came in the shape of actress Rosie Wyatt who I had seen twice at the Soho Theatre, in Blink and Spine, and she had been brilliant in both.

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas was touring and there were a few places that I could have gone to seen it but it made most sense to see it at the Rose in Kingston. It is within walking distance after all.

I had to walk briskly though as I looked at the tickets just as I was leaving the house and saw that it started at 7pm, not 7:30pm! I learned later that this was because there were children in the play and they are not allowed to work late. I got there in time for the play, just, but any hope I had of a relaxing drink first was gone. Not really a problem and I was just glad that I spotted the early start time before it was too late.

My seat was in my preferred area Centre Stalls Row A close to the centre (seat A32) which set me back a modest £26. The theatre was pretty full and there were quite a few children in there which was my first clue that this might not be the play for me.

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, as you probably know, was originally a best selling book that tells a story about the holocaust through the eyes of two young boys, aged nine, who become good friends despite being on opposite sides of fence at Auschwitz. Their friendship leads to a sad ending.

I've not read the book, and do not intend too, but by coincidence I say the film adaptation a few days later so I can make some comparisons with that.

The play put more of an emphasis on the child's-eye-view throughout, e.g. the young German boy, Bruno, thinks that the Führer is called the Fury and Auschwitz is Out-With. While it was slightly interesting to work out what he meant originally I found that this idea was overplayed and became irrelevant, if not boring. Once we all knew that it was Auschwitz, why continue with the pretence?

Similarly I found it frustrating that the boy did not know who was in the camp or why, which he never found out but we always knew.

That said, the play jogged along nicely, if a play about the holocaust can ever jog along nicely, and the story kept me entertained despite its limitations. The ending rescued things a lot and was far more dramatic, powerful and poetic than in the film. The play came after the film and may have learned some lessons from that.

In a play about the holocaust the characters were always going to be less important than the events but the cast did a good job, though some deserved allowances had to be made for the boys' ages. The boy's mother was especially strong and was given her own plot-line not in the film (though, possibly in the book).

Rosie Wyatt played the family's maid and, being neutral, provided the narrator's role at times. She was the first person to speak in the play and set the scene for us. Rosie can do far better than this but I am sure as a young actress there are advantages that playing in a touring production of a popular play has over playing short runs in small theatres. I hope to see her in something more challenging for both of us next time.

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas felt like a play about children for children at times and it told us nothing about the holocaust that we did not already know but it was a good production of a reasonably crafted tale with a strong ending and I was happy with that.

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