“Is this what it means to be free?” asks five year old Little Jack in Emma Donoghue's adaptation of her startling 2010 novel, brought to the stage by director Cora Bissett. The only life Jack has known previously is the claustrophobic confines of a wooden shed, where he lived with his doting Ma after she was kidnapped seven years before by a man known only as Old Nick. Here, Jack conjures up a world drawn from his fertile imagination. Inanimate objects become his playmates, and a sense of wonder and adventure prevails. When Ma and Jack finally manage to escape their captor, they find themselves in a new kind of prison.
An over-riding warmth emanates from every pore of this co-production between Theatre Royal Stratford East and Abbey Theatre, Dublin in association with the National Theatre of Scotland and Covent Garden Productions. There is a sense of empathy and care too with Donoghue's characters. This is clear from the relationship between Witney White's Ma and Little Jack, played here by Harrison Wilding, one of three child actors taking turns at the play's pivotal role. The unspoken complexities of Jack's responses to his plight are given voice by Fela Lufadeju's Big Jack.
Played out on Lily Arnold's busy set and given depth by Andrzej Goulding's animated video projections, Donoghue and Bissett's construction is fleshed out further through songs written by Bissett and Kathryn Joseph, and performed by White and Lufadeju. The end result is a heart-rending depiction of a mother and child's survival of the unthinkable through the power of a love that finally allows Jack and Ma to come home.
The Herald, June 15th 2017