Since 1993 the Royal National Theatre has mounted a holiday family show. This is not the usual mindless pantomime, but a spectacular production of an adaptation of a book written for young people aimed at over 12s and adults. They began with a six hour, two part adaptation of Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS (a holiday show that attacked organized religion!). After running that for two sold out seasons, they mounted MELLY STILL's inventive production of CORAM BOY, followed by WAR HORSE, their biggest hit which has moved on to a sold out run on the West End. This year's production, Mark Ravenhill's adaptation of Terry Pratchett's NATION has not been so well received by critics and is not the sellout hit previous shows have been. Nonetheless it is a beautiful, inventive production (Melly Still again).
NATION is politically tricky which has put off some of the critics. In the height of the British Empire a girl is shipwrecked on an island. There she becomes friends with a boy who has become chief after many of his tribe have been killed by a tsunami. So proper British girl and native boy have adventures together and the girl discovers that the native civilization has its own ancient culture established long before England was inhabited. The whites who survive the shipwreck are the violent, destructive ones and the natives sing and dance. All politically correct but still reinforcing stereotypes. If one can get beyond that, the production is beautiful to behold with terrific "underwater" aerial effects. Melly Still is great at creating theatrical effects very simply. The cast (no NT stars) is fine and the original score is music is enjoyable but forgettable.
Nowhere near the excellence of CORAM BOY or WAR HORSE but perfectly enjoyable.
NATION by Mark Ravenhill from the novel by Terry Pratchett. Directed by Melly Still, designed by Melly Still with Mark Friend; costumes designed by Dinah Collin; puppets designed by Yvonne Stone. Royal National Theatre. December 21, 2009