John Nathan recommends a top seasonal production at the National Theatre
TCoram Boy Olivier, National Theatre London SE1 he National Theatre’s 2005 seasonal offering well deserves a revival. It is the kind of production whose scope and vision would make it almost impossible to stage anywhere else. And this time, it is even better.
The plot — set in 18th-century England — follows the fate of abandoned baby Aaron, the son of teenage music prodigy Alex who is heir to the domineering Lord Ashbrook, owner of the greatest estate in Gloucestershire.
But the pitch-dark background to this upper-class family drama — based on Jamila Gavin’s novel and adapted by Helen Edmundson — is 18th-century child-trafficking.
The evil practise is embodied by the Coram Man (Tim McMullan) who promises a future for unwanted babies born to the upper classes. The promise is to place them discretely in Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital. Regular financial contributions will ensure the child’s upkeep and a supply of clean clothes and birthday cakes. But instead he allows them to die — or worse, buries them alive, and pockets the money himself.
Melly Still’s production — from which the longueurs have been ironed out since its first showing — is a triumph of imagery. Instead of trees overlooking the babies’ graves, their mothers sway mournfully. And the scene where Alex (Katherine Man-
Tim McMullan as the Coram Man ners and Bertie Carvel as the child and adult versions respectively) is transformed from choir-boy soprano to deep-voiced adolescent remains among the most beautifully staged moments I have seen.
But do not let these nightmarish visions put you or your children off seeing this play. The National recommends a lower age limit of 12, but younger children in the audience seemed enthralled and only temporarily appalled.
What counts here is that the violence is balanced by beautiful imagery and set to themes of social justice and the civilising influence of music in a brutal age. Recommended to those of all ages who can follow a cracking story. ( Tel: 020 7452 3000)