Nation, National Theatre, London
Thursday 26 November 2009
With a good deal of theatrical fare designed for family consumption at Christmas, you can confidently check your brains in at the cloakroom and sit back expecting a certain end-of-term laxity on the artistic front. But not at the National Theatre where, if anything, the creative excellence has tended to be intensified in Yuletide-born shows such as War Horse, Coram Boy, and pre-eminently the adaptation of Philip Pullman's masterpiece, His Dark Materials.
These last two spring to mind while watching this year's effort: a stage version by Mark Ravenhill of Terry Pratchett's hit novel Nation. But I'm afraid that the comparison does not work to the advantage of the new piece. As with a strand of His Dark Materials, we are in a parallel world. It's 1860 and two teenagers are hurled together as survivors of a tsunami that has destroyed a South Pacific island village – Mau (strapping, loin-clothed Gary Carr), a native of the island, and the posh, well-connected English teenager Daphne (squeaky Emily Taaffe), who has been shipwrecked. But His Dark Materials dramatised a colossally arduous rite-of-passage into puberty whereby two 12 year olds from parallel universes embraced sexual love in a way that redemptively re-enacted the Fall. In the much shallower Nation, Mau and Daphne feel like crude counters in an exercise in politically correct sermonising about the superiority of science to religion.
Melly Still's production occasionally creates ravishing visual effects with its three large picture-framed aquaria, which swarm with scene-setting video footage or purl with blood during moments of violence.
But morally and emotionally, the drama is undernourished. The tsunami seems to cure Mau tout court of any fundamental belief in the patriarchal gods of his tribe and his rite of passage into the assumption of responsibility as adult head of his nation is insufficiently pitted with deep dilemmas. Meanwhile, irritating Daphne progresses too smoothly from patronising tea ceremonies, via queasy cultural trials that are reminiscent of I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here (a programme on which no one, as yet, has had to suck the teats of a drugged pig to secure the milk for a dying baby).
To 28 March (020 7452 3000).
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 3 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 4 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Sherlock series 4: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have to be 'persuaded' to return, says Steven Moffat
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
A victory for gender equality on the high seas
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election