Based on a novel by Terry Pratchett, 'Nation' takes place on an island. A young man, Mau, is on his journey from boyhood to manhood when a tsunami strikes and wipes out his tribe. By coincidence, a young English girl called Daphne is on an English ship which is wrecked in the tsunami at a different location on the island. Inevitably, two civilisations meet, or rather collide, and in a sense a new one is born. During what follows, Mau faces life-threatening challenges and is saved, rather predictably, by Daphne. There's also a sub-plot about the succession to the English throne which frankly had me confused, or maybe bemused.
Gary Carr is a youthfully lithe, courageous and energetic Mau. Emily Taaffe as Daphne starts off as a rather prim, naive and typically English young lady, but later shows that there's inner strength within her. She's accompanied almost wherever she goes by her tame, but rather foul-mouthed parrot Milton, ably and convincingly played by played by Jason Thorpe.
Director Melly Still was also involved with the design along with Mark friend, and the result is a curved, raised area in the centre of the stage, surrounded by three enormous screens used to project various images of the island, the universe and more. The description of the ship at the beginning of the show is ingenious and inventive – a simple rope marks out the outline of the ship and a figurehead makes up the prow. Waves are created with huge flapping cloths. And a number of interesting and well-made puppets appear during the show, such as a giant sow which has to be milked, some rather dark and evil-looking vultures and a baby.
This show raises a very interesting and important question: just what makes a really great production? For example, the National's 'War Horse' was one such a show; a formidable production that was truly compelling in every respect. 'Nation' in a sense is from the same mould. It's a large-scale, hugely creative production, but yet it falls short of being great. Of course, comparisons are unfair, but in reality are almost inevitable.
Like the tsunami at the start of the show, much of the action simply washed over me. I found myself rather confused and a little lost in the detail of the succession to the English throne and I started to cringe come the sentimental ending.
Just what lets 'Nation' down, is not easy to pinpoint, but I think the problem lies in the fact that the story is just not compelling or magnetic enough, and we simply don't empathise with the characters sufficiently to be totally engrossed by what is happening on stage.
I have to confess that I haven't read Terry Pratchett's novel, and it might have helped if I had. But a show of this kind also needs to stand alone and shouldn't really require prior knowledge. However, if you have read the book, then you might find it more appealing, and if you're a devotee of Terry Pratchett's work, all may be much clearer and consequently more enjoyable.
"A lot of the show, with its banal grass-skirted song and dance and its civic studies slogans set to a bad Hair day score, lapses too easily into pious proclamations."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"The combination of strong narrative, lively moral debate and a real sense of life and death dangers will hold adults and children in thrall."
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"What the story lacks is the spellbinding clarity you find in the best children's fiction...Although it makes a spectacular island fling, it rarely achieves narrative coherence."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"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."
Benedict Nightingale for The Times
"While in Mark Ravenhill’s adaptation there are moments of spry comedy and gorgeous spectacle, there are also times when one feels as if one’s watching a hastily devised school play."
Henry Hitchings' for The Evening Standard
"This is a show that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages."
Aleks Sierz for The Stage