Review: A boy's own view of Bosnia
Apocalyptica Hampstead Theatre
Monday 16 March 1998
Apocalyptica, which has just opened in Matthew Lloyd's production at Hampstead, is the one supposedly designed for the oldest of these groups, but speaking as a fully paid up 42-year-old member of it, I felt I was being treated, like the child at the play's centre, to the consolations of seeing horror distanced, shaped, mediated and simplified through fable. And what is right for a shell-shocked child in a war zone can all too easily come across as sanitisation for an adult sitting in the comfort of a north London theatre.
Apocalyptica was inspired by a TV news report from Bosnia which showed a group of refugees taking shelter in a ruined building. A little boy, asked questions by a journalist, was too traumatised to speak and proved to have forgotten his own name. Set in the smoking bombed-out dereliction of Elizabeth Ascroft's bleakly impressive design, the play imagines how a motley collection of dispossessed adults (from Ian Gelder's head-wounded stray soldier to Elizabeth Bradley's excellent, hard-headedly compassionate old lady) might help the boy, who is now alone in the world, to make sense of the moral atrocities he has witnessed. They do so by telling him stories.
The individual tales have strong recurring patterns and preoccupations, involving trips to wizards, the eventual consigning of some falsely alluring object to the camp fire, and the kind of mono-maniacal self-regard which causes epic annihilation. For example, to persuade a randy old hag of a witch to create ever increasingly destructive weapons, a handsome young prince makes escalating sexual concessions to her. Until of course she turns into a beautiful princess and gives him the greatest "weapon" of all - a baby.
No allowance here that, with genes like his father's, this baby might grow up into Saddam Hussein. There's a grating sentimentality, too, in the way Ridley handles the little boy (Callum Dodgson) who, invited by the old lady to decide when each story is finished, is soon outstripping the adults in the depths of his intuitive understanding. From huddled trauma he graduates, with a wishful speediness, to being the star pupil in what feels like a pretty static ethics lesson for all Matthew Lloyd's attempts to make the outer situation spill animatingly into the inset stories.
But none of the characters are individualised: all, regardless of age or status, use the word "fucking" as though their lives depended on it. For a truly adult play about the healing power of stories, go to the Royal Court and see Conor McPherson's The Weir.
Hampstead Theatre, London NW3; box office 0171-7229301.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
Life & Style blogs
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
- 1 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 2 Japanese plant experts produce 10,000 lettuce heads a day in LED-lit indoor farm
- 3 War is war: Why I stand with Israel
- 4 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
- 5 The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week
£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...
£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...
£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...
£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...