Nation @ National Theatre, London

cast list
Gary Carr, Emily Taaffe, Jason Thorpe, David Sterne, Al Nedjari, Michael Mears, Paul Chahidi, Bhasker Patel, Gaye Brown , Nicholas Rowe, Ewart James Walters, Craig Stein, Sirine Saba, David Ajala, Lorna Gayle

directed by
Melly Still
Mark Ravenhills adaptation of Terry Pratchetts novel explores the clash of two civilisations in a parallel world in 1860.

The plot concerns Daphne, a young ‘English’ girl who ends up shipwrecked on a South Pacific island, following a tsunami that also killed the islander Maus tribe; over time Daphne learns to love Mau and to embrace his ways and values.

Visually Melly Still’s production has a lot to offer. At the centre of the stage sits the curved tip of a globe, providing a glimpse of the Southern hemisphere of this ‘upside down’ world.

Still also shows events from a variety of perspectives, so the audience are staring one minute at a tiny ship being tossed on the ocean (a rippling blue sheet), and the next at a close-up of the same vessels deck with all its crew.
Three large screens surround the performance area helping to create a myriad of impressive effects including dolphins swimming and men diving, whilst the beautifully constructed vulture-like birds are skilfully operated by cast members.

Yet one cannot help feeling that, despite all this glorious detail, the production is rather superficial in its attempts to explore the themes of Pratchetts book. In considering the relationships between (supposedly) advanced and primitive civilisations, between science and religion, and between life and death, there is an awful lot to play with. Pratchett’s novel presents some creative ideas on these subjects, but paradoxically the attempt to recapture these on stage seems to have actually stunted the drama, which does not flourish in its own right.

Ravenhill’s adaptation is solidly constructed, but hardly elegant, and songs that sound pleasing to the ear remain pedestrian from a musical perspective. Indeed, for what could have been a delightfully playful affair, the production is surprisingly humourless, and the times when the audience laugh out loud are few and far between.

Amidst all this, Gary Carr provides a sensitive portrayal of Mau, racked with doubt as to whether he is cut out for kingship or even adulthood. Emily Taaffe is a charming Daphne, convincingly undergoing the transition from stiff upper-lipped ‘English’ girl to grass-skirted islander, whilst Gaye Brown delivers a priceless turn as Daphnes haughty Grandmother. Nevertheless, the main reason for seeing this show is its visual accomplishment, which is considerable; the other elements of the production never really reach the same level.

No related posts found...