“ National Theatre / South Bank / London / SE1 9PX / Tel: 020 7452 3000 „
Note: Nation is no longer at the National Theatre but my suggestion was accepted after the production closed. I write this review in the hope that it might go on tour at some stage.
Even though I saw Nation - the stage adaptation of a Terry Pratchett novel - in January, I was immediately convinced it would be the best thing I saw in 2010.
Mark Ravenhill's adaptation is almost better than the book itself (and I am a huge Pratchett fan). The restraints of a theatrical production have forced him to cut out any flab in the book so that the stronger themes and ideas are thrown into focus.
Nation, the novel, is completely different to Pratchett's usual work. No discworld fantasy here; instead it is a rite of passage novel set in mythical country in the South Seas in the mid19th century. It tells the story of Mau, a young man on the cusp of adulthood, who believes he is the sole survivor of a tsunami that has destroyed his island. As despair sets in, he discovers a 13 year old English girl, Daphne, who is one of the few survivors from a boat shipwrecked on the island by the huge wave.
There is humour in the misapprehensions that arise from their lack of a common language and a common culture but gradually they discover respect for each other and a common purpose in doing the right thing. At the end of their adventures, they make decisions that are mature and unselfish - clearly a moral code is being set.
Which all sounds rather worthy and, in fact, the novel is rather heavy going compared to some of Pratchett's books. However, on stage, the humour comes over much more strongly, helped by a foul mouthed parrot and some amusing puppetry.
Visually, the staging is amazing. The difficulties of showing a tsunami, underwater sequences and a trip into the afterlife are dealt with imaginatively through video footage and clever sleight of hand.
Gary Carr played Mau with a real sense of being at the extreme edge of boyhood and unwilling to take the final step into being a man. Emily Taaffe was at times less convincing as the 13 year old Daphne (it can't help that she is twice the age of the character she is playing).
The production was criticised by some reviewers for being shallow. Others felt that the puppetry was disappointing compared to other National Theatre productions, such as War Horse. But why judge a production only in comparison with others? Nation was aimed at a younger audience and its visual effects, humour and sense of rightness at the end were, to my mind, perfectly targeted.