Two much loved – and largely traumatic, if I remember correctly – novels about love and friendship in the backdrop of war have been adapted for the stage and come to the Playhouse this spring. John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas tells the tale of an unlikely bond between two innocent boys in World War Two, whilst Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong is a story of love and courage during the Great War.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is the Second World War seen through the eyes of Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp. His forbidden friendship with Shmuel, a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence, takes him from innocence to revelation with devastating consequences, revealing the poetic irony that through a child’s eye everyone can appear the same. The novel was previously adapted into a film in 2008. This adaptation comes to the Liverpool Playhouse from March 30 to April 4.
Director Joe Murphy is artistic director of nabakov, a new writing company dedicated to making work in response to social and political themes. Adapting the novel is Angus Jackson of Chichester Festival Theatre, and cast includes Phil Cheadle, seen at the Playhouse in Northern Stage’s Blue Remembered Hills, and Rosie Wyatt, whose previous visits to the Playhouse include Love Love Love (Paines Plough) and Mogadishu (Lyric Theatre Hammersmith). This world stage premiere of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is presented by The Children Touring Partnership.
Also at the Playhouse from April 14 to 18, Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong is the story of a passionate and dangerous affair between Stephen and Isabelle, played out against the First World War. As he leads his men through the carnage of the Battle of the Somme, the sprawling tunnels that lie deep underground, and the unprecedented horror of the war, Stephen clings to the memory of Isabelle and the idyll of his former life as his world explodes around him.
Peter Duncan – of Eighties Blue Peter fame – returns to Birdsong as Jack Firebrace, having played the role in the 2014 tour. The cast includes Edmund Wiseman (Richard II, RSC) as Stephen, Emily Bowker (What the Women Did, Southwark Playhouse) as Isabelle.
Sebastian Faulks has said of the play, adapted by Rachel Wagstaff: “Both Rachel and I want this to be the definitive version of Birdsong on stage. The audience watch it and think, thank God I have never undergone all of this. These experiences are far outside the lives of most people but there is something about the way the production works which makes people identify and think, it could be me.”
For more info, see the Playhouse’s website.