Boy won­der

John Nathan rec­om­mends a top sea­sonal pro­duc­tion at the Na­tional Theatre

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS/ -

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)

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