BalletDanceDramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Writer: Based on the book by John Boyne

Music: Gary Yershon

Director and Choreographer: Daniel de Andradge

Reviewer: Laura Stimpson

By special arrangement with Miramax, Northern Ballet brings to the stage John Boyne’s New York Times best seller, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

A story which needs little introduction, the 2006 novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas sold over five million copies within five years of being published.  A poignant tale of two boys of the same age but from very different backgrounds separated by only a barbed wire fence during the Holocaust. One is the son of a Commandant, the other a Jewish boy.

Northern Ballet is well known for their contemporary and experimental performances.  Mixing the subject of Holocaust with ballet is a brave undertaking for Director and Choreographer Daniel de Andradge and one that in this case, doesn’t work as well as it could have. The story is a delicate balance between humour and pathos, however in contrast, Gary Yershon’s score is somewhat oppressive, and does not lend well to this.  Visually there are some endearing, fun moments, but the score does little to support the action on stage. There is not enough contrast between the starkly contrasting moods of the scenes, which lessens the ability to produce the greatest tension during scenes of severe brutality. 

Visually though, the production has some beautiful moments.  The highlights are undoubtedly Mark Bailey’s set and Tim Mitchell’s lighting which both create a fine, versatile atmosphere in which the action can unfold.

Kevin Poeung’s portrayal of the young Bruno is youthful, sensitive and innocent, which is not always easy to achieve when a grown man plays the part of a young boy.  Antointte Brooks-Daw plays Bruno’s sister Gretal, she is a joy to watch as she shifts seamlessly from girl to young lady when she decides to woo the Lieutenant Kotler played by Sean Bates.  Scenes between Bruno and his sister Gretal are the most endearing in the production. Danced beautifully these scenes are filled with a lovely balance of love, humour and insolence.  Relationships between characters are executed well, the warmth of the parents and Grandparents love for the children is believable and it is clear to see the mutual affection of the children with Maria, the family’s Maid, played by Mariana Rodrigues.

In contrast to this, pirouetting Nazi’s are difficult to take seriously, which is disappointing when depicting a story from such a tragic period of history. The addition of the physical presence of The Fury, played by Mlindi Kulashe is unnecessary, insensitive and somewhat patronising to an audience with the knowledge that a story set in a Nazi concentration camp is likely to include death; there is no need to spell it out. To add insult to injury, the Fury is reminiscent of an S&M grim reaper, appearing on stage intermittently like a pantomime villain. However, this gripe is in no way a reflection on Kulashe’s actual performance, which is played with gusto.

While this ballet is beautifully designed, danced, and contains some captivating moments, it is hugely let down by its musical score and insensitive characterisations. A brave undertaking none the less.

Runs until 9 September 2017 | Image: Emma Kauldhar

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. 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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