It’s starting to become a trend that I’m seeing my favourite books adapted onto the stage. Last night I watched The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas, a story set in the second world war about a young German boy named Bruno who befriends a young Jewish boy named Schmuel through the fence of a concentration camp.
Bruno grew up in Berlin with his older sister Gretal, his family move to Auschwitz concentration camp where his dad has been posted to work. The play portrays the holocaust through the eyes of innocent children and their naivety is obvious throughout.
The staging’s simplicity is potent, the rotating stage allows the audience to see the different perpectives of the characters. It is particularly effective during the scenes between Schmuel and Bruno as they talk through the barbed wire and build their friendship. There aren’t many locations in the story so the set works perfectly, projected narration is used to display the time and place of the scene.
Both young boys did a fantastic job, Bruno played by Finlay Wright-Stephens and Schmuel played Tom Hibberd are both only nine years old. They excellently portray such young innocent children that don’t understand the severity of the situation they are in. Despite Bruno stumbling on a few words, he carries the show tremendously.
Marianne Oldham plays the mother, her prim and proper character unravels to reveal the heartbroken and struggling mother who is trying to keep it together for the family but is eager to move back home to Berlin. The stern and high-powered father is played by Phil Cheadle, he captures the authoritative character superbly. This authority is reflected in Kotler, the soldier working for father who is played by Ed Brody. He depicts the character as abrasive and I found him heavily intimidating especially during the shocking scene in which he beats up the Jewish waitor at the dinner table.
Robert Styles plays both Pavel the Jewish waitor and Hitler. The play doesn’t lack irony, Pavel is hunched over and struggles to walk across the stage, his weakness is evident and quite distressing. Bruno’s sister Gretal played by Eleanor Thorn, she portrays the bossy teenager who is so desperate to grow up and act like an adult.
Performances are exceptional, the play is simple yet highly thought provoking. Director Joe Murphy has done a brilliant job bringing the story to life, the stage show is an exact adaptation of the book. The links to the book are strong, even a poignant quote from the book is projected onto the stage as Bruno meets Schumel,. The transitions are impeccable, a highlight being the physical theatre section that demonstrated fluidity as Bruno adventured through the woods and he stumbles across the barbed wire that encloses Schmuel.
The whole play centers around the idea of childhood during the war, Bruno and Gretal despite being so young are constantly told to “grow up” and “stop acting like a child”. It emphasises on the lack of childhood during the war and Bruno’s attempt to find friends and live as a normal child.
The final scene is heart wrenching, as the actors walk on for the curtain call they then leave the stage empty with only a pile of Bruno’s clothes centre stage. It is not a happy play but it really opens your eyes to the treacherous nature of the war and how the Jews were treated.
It’s emotional, moving and entirely gripping. The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas is on at the Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday the 13th of June and tickets can be found here.