The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Music: Gary Yershon

Choreographer/Director: Daniel de Andrade

Reviewer: David Robinson

John Boyne wrote his best-selling Holocaust novel in a matter of a few days, although this is barely evident as it is transferred to ballet form in the capable hands and feet of Northern Ballet on this world premiere tour. The scenarios are adapted engagingly by choreographer Daniel de Andrade and whistle along at quick-step speed. The dark and cruel inevitability of the death camp solution lingers and juxtaposes unpleasantly alongside this story of a simple friendship divided by wire.

That image of a friendship dissected by a fence is where Boyne began his journey with the novel. Two boys looking at each other, either side of a brutal partition. The book looks at what necessitated such a decision primarily through the optimistic eyes of an ordinary boy Bruno. This is where the ballet excels, Kevin Poeung as the fun loving Bruno, exudes hopefulness as he searches for solutions in his own convivial manner. Poeung has conviviality in spades and moves with unabashed confidence and innocence.

The storyline is straightforward and easy to comprehend in ballet incarnation. Bruno’s father is a German military officer who is put in command of a concentration camp, the family moves to a house close to the edge of the camp. The family is a loving unit but inevitably fun loving Bruno is swiftly bored and is keen to play beyond the garden perimeter. He discovers a path, a fence and a friend, a friend in some striped pyjamas. The inevitability of it being a short term friendship is palpable which makes the moments of tenderness and care even more poignant and heart wrenching. The reach between the barbed wire to hold hands and the impromptu game of football are both bewitching. Luke Francis, as Shumel the new found friend for Bruno, finds moments of heaviness and despair but cleverly in among his apparent despair he delights in friendship and moments of hope, courtesy of Bruno. There is a yearning to see their moments together elongate, which of course is not to be.

Happenings at the house are not so conciliatory, Bruno’s sister Gretel (Rachael Gillespie) is rather dangerously trifling with SS Lieutenant Kotler, moodily and effortlessly portrayed by Dale Rhodes. And throughout the sinister and spectre-like image of The Fury (Giuliano Contadini) looms and looks and tempts his soldiers on his board game towards greater evil. Contadini darkly spreads his villainy with a sinister expertise.

It is an unfussy production with simple and effective costumes and set (Mark Bailey.) The lighting is worthy of note, Tim Mitchell’s design illuminating the path slickly to allow Bruno to discover his new friend. The music (Gary Yershon) is performed admirably by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia under the direction of John Pryce-Jones, a little uneasy on the ear at times with a degree of sameness retained throughout.

This is a brave choice by artistic director David Nixon at the start of what promises to be an exciting season for Northern Ballet. The climax to the ballet is brilliant and touching in equal measure, a simple and severe story beautifully told.

Runs until 31 May 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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