Review: Nation, National Theatre

“If you’re watching grandmama, look away now”

Sometimes I think there’s something to be said for just sitting down at the theatre, especially when it is a family show and just enjoying what’s front of you. I’ll be the first to admit that I have done very little of that this year but for some reason, and it wasn’t even the mulled wine, Nation at the National Theatre warmed my heart in a way I was not expecting.

The fantasy genre is one which is often hard to adapt to the stage, as the books are heavily laden with a rich level of detail, creating new worlds and mythologies, and there inevitably has to some degree of compromise between creating a coherent narrative for the timespan of a play but remaining faithful enough to respect the source material (and please the fans). And if one is being honest, there were elements of Mark Ravenhill’s adaptation of Terry Prachett’s story of two teenagers thrown together by a giant tsunami leaving one shipwrecked and the other without a home, that didn’t bear much scrutiny. But it was so swiftly directed that only the most curmudgeonly of souls would have dwelt on the plotholes.

The underwater scenes were as gorgeous an image as I have seen all year and along with the battle on the boat were impressively mounted. And I reckon this is part of why I enjoyed it so much, the National do so well at creating large theatre on this scale that is often breathtaking and I think this should be commended. It helps when it is supported by a witty script that kept the ever-present threat of human mortality neatly balanced with the comedy. Gary Carr’s Mau visibly matures onstage from a frightened boy to a young man increasing daily in wisdom and bravery and is ably matched by Emily Taaffe’s aristrocratic young lady who slowly discovers a world beyond petticoats and afternoon tea.

This is by no means a perfect show, the portrayal of the islanders is often clunky and the repetitious music will stay in your head annoyingly, but this show is presented with such verve and energy that I’m sure it will entertain many a family. And take some tissues for a genuinely moving ending, that is highly affecting (once again, I state, I had no mulled wine beforehand!)

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