The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Published: Thursday 19th October 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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Ballet could perhaps be the most difficult medium when it comes to adapting a story, especially one as emotive as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

Based on the bestselling novel by John Boyne, which then went on to become a successful film, this is a bold and daring offering from Northern Ballet. Visiting Hull New Theatre this week as part of its UK tour, the show is a clever and powerful visual narrative of a tale that at first warms, only to ultimately break the heart.

Bruno is an eight-year-old German boy whose family moves to a house in the countryside when his father lands a new job. What Bruno doesn’t understand due to his young years is that the people he has seen working on a nearby farm are not farmers at all, but concentration camp prisoners. This sweet naivety leads to Bruno making friends with Shmuel, a boy his age whose world is separated by a barbed wire fence.

As time goes by, Bruno and Shmuel share thoughts and stories, play board games and attempt to understand the strange actions of the adults around them. Bruno also brings Shmuel food, still not understanding the situation and his forced role within it.

In the book and the film we hear their conversations and get insight into how their minds work. This cannot be done through silent dance, so instead Northern Ballet had to use a dramatic soundscape and clearly defined movements to convey the thoughts, feelings and actions that are so integral to the story.

Whilst the German officials are often so light on their feet that they seem as if they may leave the ground entirely, as if buoyed by their status in the Third Reich, the Jewish prisoners are plagued by a heavy languidness. So whilst the former spirals and flies across the stage, excited for a bright new tomorrow, the latter slithers and clunks around as if this very day may be its last.

It is this smart choreography that effectively conveys the developments of the modern fable, from the toil that goes on behind the imposing fence, to Bruno’s sister becoming a fanatical supporter of the Nazi party.

Speaking of which, Hitler himself is personified by The Fury – a childlike mispronunciation of “Fuhrer”. This slender, lithe, spidery figure is dressed all in black and has a steel grip over its minions. Whirling around the set like a tornado of death, nothing can stop the destructive force from transforming its surroundings into hopeless landscapes of segregation, brutality and dominance.

This is a beautifully crafted show that takes a real risk, as portraying a story of the Holocaust through ballet is no mean feat. Northern Ballet offers its audiences an adaptation that is very different from other formats, yet is equally tender and bewitching.

You can catch The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas at Hull New Theatre until Saturday. For tickets, please call 01482 300306, or you can book online.

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Published: Thursday 19th October 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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