Review: A boy's own view of Bosnia

Apocalyptica Hampstead Theatre

From films about the Kray twins to children's books that have earned him the title "The New Roald Dhal", from art exhibitions to stage plays that bring the bric-a-brac of the Baroque to gangster- haunted Bethnal Green - no, you can't accuse Philip Ridley of malingering in the one narrow rut. His latest project - "The Storyteller Trilogy", about the various powers of performed narrative - even manages to hop between theatres (the Hampstead and the National) and to pitch itself at different age groups (children, "young adults", adults).

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.

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

    Middleware Support Analyst

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Senior Java Developer/Designer

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...

    Domino Developer and Administrator

    £40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?