In the year that we remember the liberation of Auschwitz 70 years ago I suppose it’s a fitting time to embark on a tour of a concentration camp play. This production by the Children’s Touring Partnership is different of course for its brave attempt at highlighting the horrors of the holocaust to kids. The problem though is there is virtually nothing that is appropriate to show to children that can really make them appreciate just how appalling this period in history was.
Writer John Boyne has instead tried to create a world that the young audience can understand as seen through the eyes of the main characters that are children themselves. This lends an obvious connection for them but at the same time leaves a distance from the historical and the terrifying reality. Whilst the play focuses on its two central child characters as an audience member you find yourself more interested in the less involved adult characters knowing that that is where the drama is really taking place.
The story revolves around the unlikely friendship that develops between Shmuel, a prisoner at Auschwitz and Bruno, the Son of the camp commandant. They talk enviously of each others lives on opposite sides of the barbed wire fence without any understanding of how they are both living and what is really going on. As you might expect or indeed may well know if you have read Boyne’s book or seen the 2008 film it ends with tragic consequences.
The performances from the two boys are word perfect and can not be faulted in any way. Jabez Cheesman as Bruno and Colby Mulgrew as Shmuel are nothing more than little miracles in the way that they utter some extraordinarily long speeches and hold the stage between the two of them with amazing control. Against Robert Innes Hopkins sterile and less than evocative designs however the performances are strangely unmoving if not technically brilliant.
Great use of projection throughout keeps the timeline comprehensible as it jumps back and forth and strong support from an adult ensemble make this a watchable performance but it fails to engage on a really emotional level. The believability of the story is just a step too far to fully make this the absorbing piece it could have been. However the performances from the two young stars is worth the ticket price alone.