Friday, 13 September 2013

The Book of Everything, Canberra Rep

The short version of this review is: If you care about theatre that is passionate, inventive, engaging, funny, sweet and touching, go see this show. And drag anybody you know, any kids who you think can handle the unfortunate fact that sometimes, parents are not always right, or kind, or good - this is the show that you can recommend to everyone you know as "The Good Stuff". Go, book for it now. I'll be here when you've finished.

You're back? Good. So, let's talk about a play, apparently simple in intent, that captures something very fundamental about humanity, about love, about faith and kindness and about broken people and the ways that they can become unbroken. The central conceit of "Book of Everything" is that we experience a small neighbourhood in 1951's Amsterdam through the eyes of a 9 year old boy - one whose imagination and compassion is unrestrained by his strict Calvanist father and the uncertain post-World-War 2 environment around him. Ed Wightman's production completely buys into this, from the childlike design by Andrew Kay (full of tricksy panels and flaps and hidden cupboards - it takes true adult ingenuity to be this wonderfully playful) to some of the low-fi special effects (the early scene where the family Kloppers eat dinner, and the other actors provide live sound-effects acts almost as a style-guide to the audience, indicating this a show that's going to let the strings show but still let the magic be just as effective). 

The performances are outstanding. Lachlan Ruffy hasn't exactly been invisible on Canberra stages in recent years, but this is the first time he's been the undisputed centre and lead of a show I've seen (after sharing lead duties with Sarah Golding on "Eurobeat"  and Pippin Carroll in "Yonkers"). And he nails it. There's not a hint of personal vanity or ego in his performance, and there's not a lot of performer's shtick in it either - simply presenting Thomas as a gentle, rounded, wise, hopeful, clever, kind boy who goes through the world with wide eyes and a hopeful heart. 

I've spent a few reviews saying that I wanted to see Helen Vaughan-Roberts cry. I didn't realise how much I wanted to see her laugh until this show - where she releases wonderfully infectious, full-hearted giggles and glee. A woman whose life has been touched by tragedy but refuses to be defined by it, Mrs Van Amersfoort offers HVR one of the best roles I've seen her in and she seizes the opportunity with both hands.

The rest of the cast is equally as effective - from Maddy Kennedy's perfectly-pitched-sixteen-ness as Margot, to Miles Thompson's cool-dude Jesus, from Liz de Totth's fun and free-wheeling Auntie Pie to Tamina Kohene-Drube's sweetly good-natured Eliza, and from Lanie Hart's generous loving nature as Mother to Jerry Hearn's tightly-wound narrow-mindedness as Father. And there is magic and delights throughout - the rain of frogs being perhaps a particular highlight, although the journey of Thomas' letter, the effects of Neil McRitchie's sound and Chris Ellyard's lighting during Thomas' first listening to music at Mrs Van Amersfoort's ... the whole damn show is a highlight, and should be seen as soon as possible. And probably twice or more.

(edited to correct names - Apologies to both Sarah Golding AND Eliza Shepherd who I mis-attributed earlier)

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