The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse
By Ginger Bailey, September 2017
Here is my confession: I last watched a ballet some 13-years ago. It was, not surprisingly, Swan Lake – the one most people have heard about. I remember being impressed by the dancers but, for what ever reason, have not been tempted back
That is until seeing that Northern Ballet were bringing to life The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Intrigued as to how on earth they would be able to adapt such a powerful book into a ballet (ok, ok, you got me, I haven’t read the book. I watched the film, once, and remember being utterly heartbroken at the end), I went along to find out if a passion for watching the ballet would develop as a result – and to see whether I would have a good cry at the end.
The ballet follows the plot of the book (I know because the magazine tells me) and in turn the film. We see Bruno’s father promoted to Commandant and the family being moved to Auschwitz. And we see the tension this brings to the family and the Commandant’s own mother, disgusted at her son’s job and how the Jews are treated.
We see the relationship between Bruno and Shmuel develop, leading to a betrayal and the resulting make-up scene ending in harrowing consequences. We see the arrogant Lieutenant Kotler flirting with young Gretel and mother, get his comeuppance. And we meet The Fury (the Führer), menacingly played by Mlindi Kulashe, a dark gas-masked figure representing pure evil. We see him throughout the ballet, tempting and encouraging the other characters to do harm.
The stage is darkly lit, with minimal props to set the scene. One such prop that struck me was a huge representation of the Nazi eagle suspended above the stage for the board room scenes. Another was the representation of the train, taking the Jews from their home town to the horrors of Auschwitz. The music, by Gary Yershon, added to the atmosphere and complemented the themes and imagery of the ballet. The dancers looked amazing to me – and I marvelled at the positions the human body can achieve.
But my hope of a good cry at the end did not materialise. The ending felt a little rushed to me, a little brushed-over. That said, on leaving the auditorium I took care to ear wig into the conversations of the other theatre goers. The general theme was that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was “excellent”.
So if you enjoy dance, then I think you will find Northern Ballet’s latest production well worth your time. As for me, I’m sure I’ll be tempted back to ballet again at some point, but The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is certainly no easy re-introduction to the genre.
images: Emma Kauldhar