REVIEW: Nation National Theatre South Bank

PUBLISHED: 10:53 04 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:35 07 September 2010

three star rating It s never a great sign when a pig and a parrot steal the show. Yet these animals, along with some bloody scary sharks, are the star players in the National Theatre s latest family production, Mark Ravenhill s rew

Nation

National Theatre

South Bank

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It's never a great sign when a pig and a parrot steal the show. Yet these animals, along with some bloody scary sharks, are the star players in the National Theatre's latest family production, Mark Ravenhill's reworking of Terry Pratchett's The Nation.

This is a pity, because Pratchett's sumptuous novel is about so much more. Nation follows the adventures of local boy Mau (Gary Carr) and stranded princess-in-waiting Daphne (a production-saving performance from Emily Taaffe) as they attempt to rebuild Mau's Nation following a catastrophic flood. It is a novel about children turning into adults, science versus faith, cultural acceptance and love.

The Nation is about an awful lot, actually - Pratchett is not one to speak down to his audience - but director Melly Still's production, though it contains moments of magic (helped by an imaginative use of on-stage screens), is a muddled and muted affair.

The ensemble cast is surprisingly thin (even more so when they sing) and their performances feel trapped between panto and something deeper. The "baddies" are particularly bad and even the character Death fails to impress.

The trick with family shows is to pick a play with a simple story and thumping heart, which allows the younger audience in. This is why War Horse and Coram Boy worked so well, but Pratchett's complicated work is much harder to control or simplify. Ravenhill's script feels scattered and although he isolates some excellent scenes - he has a great eye for episodes that will transfer well to-stage - the play's focus is confused and the scenes hang loosely together.

As the scenes involving birds, sharks, fish, pigs (anything that allows the National to revive the magical puppetry of War Horse) build up, one suspects it is the desire for puppetry, rather than real, strong story-telling, that is the driving force behind this visually inventive but confused production.

Until March 28.

Miriam Gillinson


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