Savage Children review

1038-193_SavageChildren_creditGrahamBurkeA girl is seen in a forest, living in the trees, eating raw meat and screaming with the voice of birds and beasts. A boy crosses Bosnia amid gunfire and bombs in an attempt to reach what little remains of his family.The first of these two plays, Wild Girl, (suitable for ages eight and up), is by far the lighter of the two, telling the tale of the Count and Countess Le Blanc who discover the wild girl of the title on their land, and attempt to tame her.

The Wild Girl, who they name Memmie for the sound she makes when stroked, has learnt not to trust humans, and survives by tooth and claw. When they are unable to find a common language with which to connect with her, the adults try other means of communication: music, dance and art, with better results.

In Mirad, Boy of Bosnia (suitable for ages eleven and up), we are presented with a lamentably familiar tale of a child witnessing the destruction of his family during a civil war, when neighbour turns on neighbour and sometimes the best way to stay alive is to play dead.

In each there is humour and a lot of beauty.

At first glance this double bill of plays, part told, part performed, seem to have little in common with one another. But dig beneath the surface to the emotions contained within each tale, and the similarities seem almost obvious.

Each of the children has lost those closest to them, and each is being offered the chance of love and care from a pair of childless grown ups. And in each case the child is the one who must decide whether this opportunity to be cherished is worth what they will be giving up, in the case of Memmie, her free, wild ways, in the case of Mirad, the possibility of finding his lost mother.

The stage is barely dressed, with only a branch overhead and a paper dolls-house sized building to depict the home of the count and countess, a wall of bars providing a sense of confinement in each play.

With these few props, the actors provide the well of images that I carried home with me: a vivid green clover field where mines lie concealed; a blackbird brought by Memmie to Countess Le Blanc as a living, singing gift.

Wild Girl creditGrahamBurke

With the adult roles and flickers of Memmie portrayed by Géhane Strehler and Dean Rehman, the stripped-back performances directed by John Retallack are intensely powerful, so that although you never see the children themselves, their presences and absences are so vividly felt by the grown ups that it is difficult not to expect a third smaller cast member to come on for the applause at the end of each show.

Savage Children is on at Bristol Old Vic’s Studio theatre until 22 June 2013 and will be at The egg in Bath from 24-29 June. Shows can be seen separately or as a double bill.

Image credits: Graham Burke




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