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Terry Pratchett's Nation at the NT - press reviews

Author Sir Terry Pratchett
The novel Nation was published in the UK last year

Nation, at the National Theatre in London, is the latest stage adaptation of a work by celebrated British fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett.

Set in the 1870s in an alternative reality, the play pitches Daphne, a shipwrecked young aristocrat, against Mau, a handsome South Pacific island native whose village has been wiped out by a tsunami.

Scripted by Mark Ravenhill and directed by Melly Still, the story muses over faith versus science but also nods to reality TV show I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!


The National has staged some terrific Yuletide shows of late: powerful Coram Boy, imaginative War Horse and hugely inventive His Dark Materials.

Sad to report, then, that Mark Ravenhill's adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Nation doesn't quite match their power, imagination or invention.

Science and reason are much feted, yet magic keeps resurfacing, whether in the form of a lady witchdoctor or ghostly "grandfathers" who hobble about in winding sheets using tusks for crutches.

Still, for all the confusion, the visual impact is considerable, and might be more so if there were more use of pretend birds, lurching pigs and other puppetry.


Mau and Daphne feel like crude counters in an exercise in politically correct sermonising about the superiority of science to religion which gets mixed, none too coherently, with sequences that depend on a sloppy cultural relativism.

Morally and emotionally, the drama is undernourished.

The tsunami seems to cure Mau of any fundamental belief in the patriarchal gods of his tribe.

Meanwhile, irritating Daphne progresses too smoothly from patronising tea ceremonies, via queasy cultural trials that are reminiscent of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!

Nation is spectacularly designed but altogether too designing.


For its Christmas family show, the Royal National Theatre has come up with a play containing death, witchdoctors, post-colonial guilt and some bad language.

With its place-faced gods of death, sharks, and dark birds of doom, this sometimes boring show, which is aimed at children aged ten or more, will merely give the little ones nightmares.

The whole thing seems horribly misconceived owing more to clumsy propaganda than Yuletide entertainment.


There are moments when the South Sea Islanders singing and dancing in their grass skirts resemble the kind of cabaret act you might encounter in a five star Hawaii hotel.

But there are some stunning underwater sequences and more importantly a script by the usually abrasive Ravenhill that captures Pratchett's noble mixture of humour and human sympathy.

Some might complain that once again the NT is presenting a show that faces children with the concept of a cruel and godless universe, though the attack on religion is nothing like as strong as Philip Pullman's in His Dark Materials.

But the combination of strong narrative, lively moral debate and a real sense of life and death dangers will hold adults and children in thrall.


It is all staged with a hectic panache. Sill and her co-designer, Mark Friend, have created a stage dominated by three translucent screens through which we glimpse floating corpses, swimming dolphins, predatory man-eaters.

Puppets, created by Yvonne Stone, represent a giant sow, bendy-limbed elders, even a growing baby.

Gary Carr and Emily Taaffe as Mau and Daphne disport themselves with great dignity and there is a nice study of a talking, walking parrot from Jason Thorpe.

Although it makes a spectacular island fling, it rarely achieves narrative coherence

Nation runs at the National Theatre until 28 March 2010.

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