Renowned for their keen eye for adaptable stories, Northern Ballet return to The Playhouse where LEO OWEN caught their new show, The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas

TELLING the story of a young boy’s burgeoning relationship with a Jewish boy living in the concentration camp his father runs, Northern’s The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas begins atmospherically.

Mark Bailey’s stage is smoke-filled as a Nazi commandant (Javier Torres) sits at a desk with a Reichsadler prominently displayed above. Like a puppet master he awakens his minions scattered across the floor by an unnerving opening dance framed by the silhouette of a barred window. Gary Yershon’s original string score complements the commandant’s jarring movements.

Meanwhile, Director and Choreographer, Daniel de Andrade ingeniously introduces a grim reaper figure entitled “The Fury” constantly lurking to emphasise how devoid of humanity the Nazi party were in their total disregard for human life. In slinky black tatters and gas mask The Fury looms in the background throughout de Andrade’s adaptation, foreshadowing the tragic end to John Boyne’s novel.

Although the presence of The Fury acts as a reminder of the atrocities occurring behind Auschwitz’s fences, de Andrade is faithful to Boyne’s sense of innocence and naivety, juxtaposing scenes of depravity with those of youthful inquisitiveness. Through the childish energy of the story’s protagonist, de Andrade switches the mood to starkly contrast with the show’s dark beginnings as Bruno gleefully dances with his Commandant father. Following on Nazi officers mishandle Jews as German civilians watch on and Bruno obliviously plays on the side-lines.

These oppositional structures alternate throughout the production highlighting the story’s binaries and their differences: adults/children, good/evil and Jews/Nazis. The tortured movements of Shmuel’s (Filippo di Vilio) first dance are accompanied by frenzied instrumentals and harrowing strings that again contrast with Bruno’s flighty dance – accentuated by the brightly lit tree tops he dances under (courtesy of Lighting Designer Tim Mitchell).

As Bruno Kevin Poeung exudes youthful exuberance, comically pranking the family maid, Maria (Mariana Rodrigues). Antoinette Brooks-Daw simply and effectively portrays Gretel’s (Bruno’s older sister) move towards adulthood through one careless action: the discarding of a doll. Through dance alone she is also able to make her character cruel and villainous.

Setting shifts are seamless as Bruno and family move from Bailey’s gloomy city skyline to overlook the death camp with its imposing fences and empty motto: “Arbeit macht frei” ("work sets you free"). Office walls open up to become train carriages and sounds of a storm move the action inside the camp as Bruno and Shmuel finally united commence their moving dance of fraternity.

In keeping with source material Northern Ballet’s Boy in the Striped Pyjamas ends abruptly and is suitably bleak. Spell-binding from start to finish, the show boasts impressive attention to detail that would be lost on those not already familiar with the book or film adaptation. That said, newcomers to Boyne’s story will be wowed by the set and moved.

The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas showed in The Quarry Theatre 5-9 September 2 2017 before continuing to Hull.