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The Globe and Mail

Nation has dazzling effects - in the original 3-D

Nation will be beamed live from London's National Theatre into more than 60 cinemas across Canada on Jan. 30.

Johan Persson

Do children in this Avatar age expect to be greeted with ever-wilder special effects when they visit the cinema? Will they not be satisfied unless their eyes have been (metaphorically) poked out by the 3-D mechanics of a blue finger or salamander's tongue?

It's worth thinking about if you take your kids to see Nation. The play, based on a novel by Terry Pratchett and currently playing at the National Theatre in London, is being beamed live today into more than 60 Cineplex cinemas in cities across Canada.

Some of the effects in Nation are dazzling in the confines of a darkened theatre - a tiny boat tossed on a cellophane sea, life-sized vulture puppets that feast on a corpse's ropy cloth entrails - but they may lose their magic when projected on the screen in a movie house.

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It's the 19th century, and that tiny boat is carrying Daphne (Emily Taaffe), an aristocratic teenager, from England to the South Pacific, where her father is the governor of a small island. She is shipwrecked, along with two sailors and her unhinged servant Cox (Paul Chahidi), and finds herself sharing the island with a young man named Mau (Gary Carr).

Mau's entire family has been wiped out by a tsunami; the wave arrived during the ceremony marking his entry to manhood, and as a result he is trapped in a netherworld between boy and adult. The arrival of Daphne only adds to his confusion.

It doesn't help that Daphne is a scientist at heart, whose main dream is to join the community of scientists as a member of the Royal Society. Her concrete beliefs about what constitutes the universe are at odds with the cosmography that Mau has known since childhood.

Science versus superstition, the debts that colonizers owe to their subjects, the idea that we're all one under the skin … it's enough to make a carbonized old heart sink with weariness. However - and it's a big however- the kids in the audience when I saw Nation were open-hearted and rapt with attention. They didn't seem to mind that there were some morally enriching morsels hidden in the pudding.

Mark Ravenhill may not be famous for his work in children's theatre (his most famous play is called Shopping and Fucking), but he knows his audience, and crams the play with action. There's a little too much action, in fact - incident follows upon incident, and Daphne's journey to save Mau from the underworld is a ghastly, gripping set piece, but over much too quickly.

The young couple are painted, unfortunately, in bland shades of goodness and heroism, more parable than people. They're overshadowed by the wondrous effects, the creepy villains and a guy playing a parrot (wonderful Jason Thorpe, as a bird who remembers only rude words).

When Daphne's former servant, Cox, turns up looking for revenge, things take a promisingly menacing turn. He's part Colonel Kurtz, part class warrior, and his final showdown with Mau is staged with an inventiveness that had the children in the audience popping out of their seats. If you take your kids and they drag their feet, tell them it's live performance - the original 3-D.

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