Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Friday, 29 November 2013
The Book of Everything, Nov 29, 2013 ****
By Guus Kuijer, Adpted by Richard Tulloch By Melbourne Theatre Company MTC Southbank Theatre, The
Sumner, until Dec 22, 2013 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars: ****
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Mon Dec2, 2013, and later in print. KH
The Book Of Everything is
a challenging and entertaining family show that balances light and darkness,
choosing not to underestimate children’s capacity to cope with tough issues
such as fear, violence and bullying.
Eccentric nine-year old,
Thomas Klopper (Matthew Whittet), deals with his fear of family violence by
escaping into a private, fantastical world that he records in his Book of
Thomas lives in 1951
post-war Amsterdam where, to combat his isolation, he conjures his own magical
world in which he sees tropical fish in the Dutch canals, a frog plague in his
street, and even chats with Jesus who is vague but friendly.
Australianised script captures the serious issues, harsh realism, fanciful
visions and humour of Guus Kuijer’s children’s book from which it is adapted.
Thomas’s emotive story of
facing his fears, confronting bullies with a wall of happiness and never
surrendering, echoes the Dutch Resistance to Nazi Occupation that is remembered
by his parents (Peter Carroll, Claire Jones), sister (Alison Bell) and
neighbour (Julie Forsyth).
Thomas is an odd kind of
anti-hero, who wishes biblical plagues upon his violent father to protect his
vulnerable mother, then, in a poignant moment, defies his father by asserting
that his single ambition is to be happy when he grows up.
Neil Armfield directs
imaginatively, creating a playful, energetic production that tells a powerful
story with humour, capable performances and simple but ingenious theatrical
He breaks the ‘fourth
wall’ by having Thomas and other actors directly address the audience,
delivering narration and characters’ personal observations.
production displays the mechanics of theatre, with actors perching on stools
when not in scenes, providing sound effects, and changing scenes by moving the
pages of the enormous picture book (Kim Carpenter) that replicates Thomas’s
Book of Everything.
Iain Grandage’s lively,
onstage music underscores dialogue and action, establishes location and period,
and provides atmosphere.
Whittet is playfully
awkward and introverted as Thomas, embodying the geeky outsider who seeks
solace in his imagination, and friendship in a disabled teenage girl (Andrea
Demetriades) and the quirky, old neighbour (Forsyth).
The inimitable Forsyth
deserves special accolades for her impeccable comic timing and hilarious
depiction of Mrs. Van Amersfoort, the weird, cackling witch, oddball hoarder
and indomitable survivor of Nazi occupation.
Carroll is compelling and
brittle as Thomas’s severe and self-righteous father, a misguided religious
fanatic and control freak who feels justified in hitting his mild-mannered wife
and son when he cannot control them.
Genevieve Picot is feisty
as rebellious Aunt Pie, John Leary is cheerfully casual as Jesus, and Claire
Jones is gentle and resilient as Thomas’s long-suffering mother.
This play provides no
trite solutions to social or family problems but is simultaneously confronting
and funny – but maybe it is best suited to kids over 8 or 9.