The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Music: Gary Yershon
Choreographer/Director: Daniel de Andrade
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

John Boyne’s book The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas imagines the world of Nazi Germany through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, Bruno, whose father is promoted to oversee ‘Out-With’ (a misunderstanding of the name of the concentration camp at Auschwitz). Bruno strikes up a friendship with a Jewish boy on the other side of the wire, Shmuel, ignorant of the reasons why he is there. And in the background, the war rages on, being overseen by ‘the Fury’ (another mishearing, of ‘Führer’).

The book and its subsequent film have been criticised for factual inaccuracies and its sentimentalisation of the Holocaust. But as a fable about how innocence chooses to remain so by looking the other way, it is rather more successful.

And it is this romanticised fable that forms the heart of Northern Ballet’s latest original work. The children are played by adults here, that is inescapable, but Kevin Poeung’s Bruno has an exuberance and spriteliness that embodies the child-like. Choreographer Daniel de Andrade, who expresses the adults’ emotions with classic ballet positions, is rather freer with Bruno’s movement, with occasional moves and poses that would not look out of place in a street dance troupe.

Joseph Taylor’s Commandant, Bruno’s father, and Dreda Blow as his wife combine to present a pas de deux of startlingly intimate romance in the first act. This routine, more than anything, humanises the Commandant, showing him to be a loving family man as well as an officer and servant of the Reich. The delicacy of his relationship with his family makes his complicity in the prison camp all the more horrific. His junior officer in the camp, Dale Rhodes’ Lieutenant Kotler, is rather more stereotypical: blond, ruthless, willing to womanise the Commandant’s wife and daughter both.

And it is the family relationship which dominates in this interpretation. The friendship between the two boys only starts at the end of Act I and, while their relationship grows throughout the second act, it remains Bruno’s family whose conflicted attitudes towards life next to the camp that provides the show’s best dance sequences.

The weakest interpretation of Boyne’s work is the onstage presence of ‘The Fury’, presented as a supernatural being who is manipulating the German officers. Giuliano Contadini’s Fury is bedecked in a curious, muscular mix of animalistic fetishwear which feels out of place in a story otherwise told from a child’s point of view.

But even with that, and with a series of goose-stepping soldier moves that mercifully fall short of evoking memories of Springtime for Hitler, Northen Ballet have produced a moving, romantically inventive work.

Runs until 10 June 2017 | Image: Emma Kauldhar

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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