The three-tiered Lowry Lyric theatre makes for a rather grand setting for Angus Jackson’s stage adaptation of The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas. Jackson has transformed John Boyne’s best-selling novel into a hard-hitting and emotional stage production, guaranteed to pull on your heart strings.
Directed by Joe Murphy, the play is set from Bruno’s naive perspective – which essentially propels the entire play forward – and tells the heartbreaking tale of two young boys, Bruno and Shmuel, played by Cameron Duncan and Sam Peterson, respectively. The pair forms a forbidden friendship either side of the fence of a German concentration camp.
In the Lyric, the audience is removed from the activity on stage; there is a definite sense of separation which reduces any sense of intimacy. This is fitting for the play that foregrounds itself as a ‘fable’ and a ‘story’ (with typewritten words appearing on the backdrop, saying as such): a fictionalised interpretation of the Holocaust.
This suggests that it is not supposed to be relatable, which arguably justifies the production itself. To make something relatable is to make it comprehensible or to assume that we, as outsiders, can empathise with what those who went through the Holocaust have endured. The play does not mean to offer an accurate depiction, which thus reduces its inherently problematic nature.
The stage – simple round wooden construction – is very interactive despite the sparse use of props. This interactivity is best demonstrated by the way in which it revolves when Bruno (a 9 year-old German) stands opposite Shmuel (a 9 year-old Polish Jew) with the barbed wire fence between them. As the boys converse, the stage rotates which means they each stand on each side of the stage at some point during the play; this is emblematic of their interchangeability. Bruno could easily have been on the other side of the fence, in Auschwitz, had he been born to a Jewish family.
Images are projected onto the wall behind the stage, effectively enhancing each scene. To introduce every new scene, darkness descends and foreboding music plays whilst typewritten words appear slowly on the backdrop. The words describe the ensuing scene, which succeeds in distracting the audience from the people moving the props around and resetting the stage below.
Creating a sinister atmosphere, the typewriter’s tapping sound also serves to establish a sense of authenticity to the setting – World War II, Berlin. The diminished lighting – courtesy of Jackson’s ingenuity – creates a consistently ominous sense which culminates in a devastating and shocking scene, and metaphorically represents the darkness of the times.
TNT Theatre Review