The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was a book I read quickly and enjoyed. It moved me and so I was intrigued as to how this might translate into a stage production, and was pleased to see it come to Nottingham on 17th March.
I have been to the theatre and been bored. I have even left halfway once or twice. This was not one of those moments – I enjoyed the story, much of the acting and so forth. But I came out of it ultimately unmoved. And for a story focused around the Holocaust, I find that leaves a deeply bitter taste in my mouth.
Now first of all, I understand – and even often like – the idea of ambivalence. I wrote my dissertation on Kurt Vonnegut, and I hardly think they come much more ambivalent than he. I don’t necessarily want what I take from it to be prescribed by a higher being – the writer. But this play seemed to take it to extremes.
It is worthy of note here that the two lead children were fantastic, and with very lengthy scenes being mostly in their hands, they remembered incredibly large chunks of dialogue and delivered them with great accomplishment. There is also one particularly notable moment of physical theatre where Bruno goes exploring for the first time which is nothing short of divine. However, the Mother of Bruno, the German child however was as weak as Bruno was strong. Her hammy acting belonged in a soap opera, and even that might be insulting Hollyoaks.
The problem was, I just didn’t feel anything. Live theatre does usually move me – rarely to tears, but emotions inside me invariably stir. But the ambivalence was just too sustained, and the euphemism too strong to provide that feeling.
The framing device was too obvious – though the gist of the end phrase is probably the nearest this play came to ‘making me think’. Ill leave you with it too. “All of this happened a long time ago. Nothing like this could happen again – could it?”