Divided by inhumanity ...united by innocence

Jabez Cheeseman and Colby Mulgrew as Bruno and Shmuel in The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas
Jabez Cheeseman and Colby Mulgrew as Bruno and Shmuel in The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas
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The simple childish wish for a friend to play with lies at the heart of the moving stage portrayal of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas.

The best selling children’s book and its subsequent movie have now been put on the stage, with author John Boyne handing over his work to adaptor Angus Jackson, for the Children’s Touring Partnership.

Set against the brutal backdrop of the Second World War at concentration camp Auschwitz, Bruno, the son of the camp commandant, and Shmuel, a young inmate, become friends.

It’s a dramatic tale, told in a language suitable for children aged 11 and upwards, and is a recommended school text.

Angus said: “I don’t think that young people should be protected from what happened in Auschwitz, provided that you, as the writer or the director, do not sensationalise any acts of cruelty you put on stage.

“You should concentrate on the story of Bruno trying to understand the new world around him.”

And John added: “All Bruno or Shmuel want is somebody to play with and somebody to talk to, and it’s really important that the audience cares about these children and the injustice of what is happening to them.”

Angus brings to the fore the imagery attached to the boys’ friendship as they’re divided by the camp’s fence, and he and John agree on the importance of educating children on the horrors of the Holocaust – with The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas as a starting point for their studies.

“It’s very difficult for Bruno to understand what is happening and you see what he sees,” explains Angus. “The play does exactly what the book does in that it asks the audience not to feel sorry for the characters.

“Instead it directs us to look at these events afresh and in that way our engagement with what is happening on stage in stimulated.”

And John added: “When I’ve gone to schools to discuss The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, I’ve always stressed to the students that if they have been moved by the book they should move on to non-fiction works that explore the same subject, the biographies and the memoirs.

“Children need to be made aware of matters of racism and of the hatred of difference.

“I didn’t want the novel to sound didactic but I’d like the young people in the audience to realise that these issues don’t just occur in the big world but in their inner world as well.

“In the play, the boys have not yet been corrupted by the world and so they supply the moral centre of the story.”

But it is not all doom –there’s the natural humour to be found within the innocence of children.

“We show Bruno, his parents, his elder sister as members of a normal family and there is always humour in families,” he said.

“It is right that Bruno and Shmuel can be funny and charming at times. My son is eight. He’s still an innocent and his innocent way of looking at the world can be quite funny. Bruno is the same.”

* The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, Grand Theatre, Blackpool, tomorrow until Saturday. Call (01253) 290190 for tickets.