David Almond's The Savage, book-to-play – review

Book group Millennium Riot Readers got to see David Almond’s stage adaptation of his book The Savages at the Live Theatre, in Newcastle. Here they tell us all about it

We got to see David Almond’s stage adaptation of his book The Savage, and here’s our review of what we experienced. You can see the play at Newcastle’s Live Theatre until 23 July 2016.

The Savage by David Almond is an exhilarating, moving and atmospheric adaptation of a thought-provoking and fantastical book. Very typical of David Almond’s unique style of writing, the story submerges the audience in a realistic surrealism of teenage angst and hurt. In the book, “the savage” provides an outlet for Blue Baker to to vent his anger and grief in the only way he can without affecting his family.

In the play especially, it is even more evident how the savage acts as a physical representation of Blue’s emotions. After losing his father so suddenly, his state of mind slips and his unnecessary guilt and anger becomes increasingly debilitating. In the story, the pinnacle comes when Blue has to physically confront his emotions, mourning his loss, and he feels as if he really becomes the savage to cope with the intense sadness. Only then does this allow Blue to come to terms with his tragedy and in his own words “Let it go.”

Watch the making of The Savage.

There are many themes to this relatively short but dramatic story. As well as dealing with loss and family grief, it also deals with bullying through a boy called Hopper.

Hopper comes from an underprivileged family and has never had the warmth and comforting feelings of close family support and love, which is why he seems to take his frustrations and anger out on those who have what he yearns for. The actor who plays Hopper in the production, admirably manages to portray the part as a bullying and menacing young person, but you can also feel his frustration and his own resentment at his feelings of inadequacy. He is a character who also changes dramatically after his confrontation with “the savage”. His aggressiveness diminishes a great deal as he also starts to deal with his own enmity.

Members of MilleniumRIOT Readers with David Amond at Newcastle’s Live Theatre
Members of Millenium RIOT Readers with David Amond at Newcastle’s Live Theatre. Photograph: Beth Khalil

The play addresses many philosophical ideas and theories upon what it means to be human. Blue says “There is a savage in everybody” often brought about through anger, pain or distress. This is an interesting deduction, as it takes the sometimes abrupt cruelty of life for violent tendencies or rage to appear in someone’s character, corrupting even the quietest and most contented individuals. The play portrays this in an honest way, staying very true to the feelings and emotions within the book.

The Live Theatre itself as a venue was perfect for this particular production, as it’s size allowed for the full impact of the play to be felt by the whole audience. The savage is a very intimate part of Blue’s life, in the book he writes that he “can’t put it in words” as he keeps his emotions so private and this performance felt very intimate to us in the theatre, with the actors often delivering their lines from within the audience.

David Almond talks about how he adapted The Savage from book to play.

Being longstanding fans of David Almond’s work such as My Name is Mina and The Fire Eaters, it was wonderful to see how one of his stories is adapted so brilliantly to the stage and the images on the walls coupled with the music truly brought the book and the production to life. The set is very sparse but with the stage being so small, this works very well in the telling of the story. The four actors who play the various character parts were outstanding and so convincing in their roles. We thought that the actor playing Blue developed the character exceedingly well from the first scene, then throughout the performance, until the savage fully consumes him and he appears towards the end in his full “savage” costume.

We had a brilliant time at the opening night of this production. From the drinks reception beforehand, meeting and chatting to David, to the seats and tables right in front of the stage, it was a fantastic experience which we enjoyed very much.

Thank you for this brilliant review Robyn, Kirsty, Eva and Chenise from Millennium RIOT Readers. You can also listen to the girls talk about the show on BBC Newcastle radio.

The stage adaptation of David Almond’s The Savage can be seen at Newcastle’s Live Theatre until 23 July 2016.

Millennium Riot Readers

The GuardianTramp