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Northern Ballet - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Summer/Autumn 2017


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It was refurbished a few years ago. My recollection from before that is that it is a very attractive Edwardian theatre.  The couple of times I have been I sat on the front row of the stalls.

 

It's right opposite the railway station.

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I was at the world premiere of Northern Ballet's Boy in the Striped Pyjamas last night in Doncaster.

 

I must admit that when this ballet was announced I felt trepidation that had only slightly lessened as the pre-show information crept out.

 

Doncaster Cast Theatre is a smallish but wonderful venue.  We discovered it last year when we came for the premiere of Jane Eyre and I was really looking forward to coming back again last night.  The 3 night run has largely sold out.

 

I didn't like the music - I found it very atonal.

 

The Holocaust was such a dreadful, defining event of the mid-20th Century that I could not comprehend how such a book about it could be translated into a ballet that would do it justice without being overly graphic or (worse) sentimental.  The book itself concentrates on 2 young boys - one on either side of the wire and neither of whom seems to realise what is happening around them.

 

Daniel de Andrade has created a very intelligent and moving ballet that does full justice to the book.  The major events take place, on the whole, as a back-drop of young boys finding friendship.  All the major incidents within the story are covered in a clear and logical fashion.  The Fury (as Bruno mispronounces Fuehrer) is shown as a sinister, ghost like figure wearing a gas mask and a fantastical black costume stalks through the piece almost like a puppeteer directing the action.  Mlindi Kulashe was superbly terrifying in this role.

 

Javier Torres was Bruno's father and proved, last night, yet again that he is a master of getting into the bones of a character.  He brought out the full dichotomy of the character who is both a loving family man and an evil monster carrying out his duties of commandant.  Hannah Bateman, as Bruno's mother clearly showed her horror of what her children had been brought to.

 

Nicola Gervasi was outstanding as Pavel, the Jewish doctor who (as a slave/servant) helped Bruno and was punished for his efforts.  There is a slow, slumped, defeated motif danced by the inmates of Auschwitz that movingly brings over the horror of their plight.

 

Filippo di Vilio is very touching as Shmuel who is befriended by Bruno.  Bruno is superbly danced with naivety and innocence by Matthew Koon.  Their growing friendship is depicted beautifully.

 

The set is very simple but effective, screens and a barbed wire fence move in and out as appropriate with props to indicated the swing in the garden, the kitchen and the dining room of the family house.

 

The whole cast gave total commitment to an outstanding performance of such a difficult subject.  Enjoyed is probably the wrong word but I am very glad to have seen this thought provoking performance and look forward to seeing it again soon.

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Thanks Janet for this. You're so right about how difficult this topic is, and relieved it seems to have worked out so well. I remember MacMillan's Valley of Shadows...the effect it had on me... and the very mixed press reaction. I'll def try to see it somewhere if I can. 

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I'll be interested to hear what you think when you see it Alice.

 

I had misgivings when it was first announced but I think the Company has made a good job of a very difficult subject.  The worst review I have seen is the one in the Telegraph but I have to be honest that I started off with the same concerns as the reviewer but then didn't think the actual ballet deserved his harsh remarks.

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I saw the performance in Stoke on Tuesday evening with Kevin Peoung and Luke Francis as Bruno and Shmuel.

 

Do to it being a late booking I was sat further back than usual and, to me, the music sounded better from further back!

 

If it was up to me I would not have chosen to make a ballet from this book, but it wasn't up to me and tonight's performance consolidated my feeling that Daniel de Andrade has created a very fine interpretation of the book.  The performances he has elicited from the dancers are uniformly magnificent and I thought Kevin Peoung and Luke Francis were very moving.  Marianna Rodrigues stood out for me as the Grandmother - you could visibly see her disquiet when she found out her son was moving away from Berlin to be a commandant at a concentration camp and her compassion when Pavel collapses while serving dinner.

 

I found the Berlin street scene very effective with people, some of them wearing stars, going about their daily business.  It was lively but the mood changed when the soldiers started rounding up the Jews and I felt their terror as they were herded away.  The final scenes were very moving.

 

Many people stood up and ovated in the stalls at the end of the performance.

 

It is the final day of the season for Northern Ballet today and what a season it has turned out to be with the triumph of Casanova and now Striped Pyjamas.  I hope everyone in the Company has a wonderful summer break and roll on the Autumn tour!!!

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Oooh, meant to write up my thought on this sooner but my viewings of this ballet got entangled with me getting hideous toothache followed closely by traumatic extraction!! Only now am I able to see the light of day with clarity (as in not zonked on on pain killers) .....but I must point out I still went to see ballet at the height of my tooth issues, and ballet helped!! Ballet numbs pain: fact.

 

So, I've seen Boy in Striped Pyjamas 3 x now; once in Doncaster and twice in Leicester.  I've seen both the leading casts. It is of course, a very difficult topic and narrative but bravo to Northern Ballet for taking it on.  Brave move but it's not going to be for everyone. I found the story telling through the dance was touching, sensitive and emotional. I first saw the film version on a long haul flight and sobbed so much at the end, an air steward came over to me and asked if I needed a drink, which I did.... 

 

In this Northern Ballet version, I was touched to the heart by the beautiful portrayal of Bruno and Shmuel by Matthew Koon/ Kevin Poeung and Luke Francis/ Filippo de Vilio. I felt the choreography by Daniel de Andrade was gorgeously lyrical and for the 2 child characters particularly, really spoke the narrative. Then there was the utterly chilling, menacing and evil character of Kotler: performed stunningly by Sean Bates and Dale Francis. Really fine and powerful performances by all the supporting casts. I am just in awe at how good Northern Ballet's dancers are at communicating such drama, they are exceptional; at this.

 

For me, this whole production produced unbelievably powerful and moving performances by all the cast. Really admirable. Not an easy watch though. As Janet says above, I would not have chosen it as a ballet. But I absolutely applaud the dancers in their performances in this. Stunning dancing and acting. Watching this really broke my heart.

 

A few words though about the 'music'. Hated it, discordant sounds. I found a way to tune it out during shows 2 and 3 I saw.  Just awful imo. My personal views - I do like notes that form some kind of tune as opposed to some kind of disharmonious mess. The soundtrack for Boy in Striped Pyjamas was for me excruciating sounds put together in no particular order. For me, the only way I got through 3 performances was because of the dancing.  No excuses - just because it's a horrible and tragic story line doesn't mean the music has to be awful. After all, the music for Schindler's List is one of the most beautiful scores ever written (John Williams) and justifiably won many awards. The music for this production would be the main reason I can't watch multiple performances.  As I said, I saw 3 just to see the different casts but I would not pay to see any more, as good as the dancing is.

Edited by nottsballetlover
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  • 2 months later...

Well, I saw last Thursday's matinee and I'm sorry to say that the work left me cold - I left at the interval, the first time I've ever done so at a ballet performance.  NB artists can be relied upon to never give less than their best, but in my opinion they were defeated by the undistinguished choreography, the awful score, and - above all - a story so ludicrous it didn't move me at all.  I realise that the novel doesn't claim to be based on real events (I read it after seeing the ballet and found it so absurd and manipulative I had to restrain myself from throwing it across the room), but surely even the teenagers at whom it is aimed should know that a nine-year-old boy wouldn't have survived more than a few days in Auschwitz, let alone have had an opportunity to form a friendship with anyone on the other side of the wire fence.  Why don't the inmates take advantage of the convenient gap under the fence (which in reality was ELECTRIFIED with guard towers at intervals). Why on earth would the German-speaking Bruno misunderstand Auschwitz as "out-with", or Fuhrer - which means "guide" - as "fury"? I'm sure NB did the best they could with this lazily-written tosh, but I thought it was a complete misfire. And as for that Berlin street scene...I can't believe I was the only person in the audience inwardly humming "Springtime For Hitler".     

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Well this afternoon's performance in Leeds was greatly appreciated by a packed audience of all ages. 

 I wasn't looking forward to the music after reading previous posts but it wasn't half as harsh as expected and totally appropriate to the subject matter. It must have been a very difficult score to play. 

If you are one of the many who do love the book and the film, you will enjoy this ballet. 

 

I was also very pleasantly surprised to see such a lot of young people in the audience today. Those sitting around us were totally absorbed and eagerly looking in the programme during the interval to see what ballet Northern are performing next.  

 

We'll definitely be booking tickets for their next production in Leeds !

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I went on Tuesday night with DS (8) who had begged to go having read the book. I was a bit hesitant but he was transfixed, his only wriggling being to pat me on the knee to make sure I had spotted each character as they were introduced. 

 

I totally get the criticisms of the plotting of the original book voiced above, but I think the underlying themes of the child who looks unflinchingly full square at horror yet without understanding, and the adults who understand the horror and yet look away, came over very clearly.  The music was discordant, as others have said, but seemed to work effectively for both me and DS. It's not an 'enjoyable' night out given the subject matter, but I thought it was powerful and certainly worked for DS who was transfixed by the male leads in particular.

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I saw the three performances over the weekend.

 

I stand by what I said after the world premiere on 25th May.  It is a very intelligent production sensitively handling such a difficult subject.  Again the company gave total commitment to the piece.

 

It looked very good on the stage at WYP - always a very special place to see NB.

 

I'm very glad I've seen this ballet but "enjoy" is not the way I felt after seeing the performances.  The audience at the three (more or less) sold out performances I saw were very enthusiastic at the curtain calls.

 

On Friday evening there was a Q&A after the performance where Daniel de Andrade, Matthew Koon and Sean Bates invited questions from the audience.  I must say that there were some really meaty questions about why this particular book was chosen and the creative process.  Daniel, Matthew and Sean all answered with eloquence.  One gentleman made a statement rather than asked a question - he had been to Krakow recently and had visited Auschwitz.  He felt that the ballet affected him more than that visit had ... a huge compliment to Daniel and all at Northern Ballet.

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