Yesterday we took the kids to the Belvoir St Theatre to see The Book of Everything, I’d had the tickets tucked away in my diary for more than a year and had completely forgotten what the play was about, all I remembered was that it was meant to be good for ages 8 and up.
From Australian Stage
The Book of Everything | Theatre of Image & Company B Belvoir
AUNTIE PIE: Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up, Thomas?
THOMAS: Happy. I want to be happy.
The Book of Everything centres on nine-year old Thomas, a little boy who dreams big. Directed by Neil Armfield, this magical tale follows the story of a child who sees things others cannot imagine, and whose spirit and curiosity wins over those around him.
Thomas is writing a book. His father says all important books are about God. Even so, Thomas writes down all the interesting things he sees that other people seem to ignore – tropical fish in the canal, a deluge of frogs, the Son of God popping in for a chat – and calls it The Book of Everything.
Featuring a colourful cast of characters, including sunny Auntie Pie, the vicious Bumbiter, a beautiful girl with a leather leg, the startling Mrs Van Amersfoort, and Jesus, this play will appeal to adults and families over the holiday season.
Neil Armfield said, ‘The Book of Everything has enormous spirit and celebrates the ability children have to let their imaginations roam. It’s a funny, generous show that will grab your heart and challenge your mind, no matter how old you are’.
The Book of Everything is based on an original novel written by the award-winning Dutch children’s writer Guus Kuijer. It was adapted for the stage by Richard Tulloch, one of Australia’s leadng writers of books, plays and television for young audiences. He was the principal writer of Bananas in Pyjamas and has written numerous children’s books including Danny in the Toybox and Being Bad for the Babysitter. His 2003 Sydney Festival puppet theatre piece Twinkle Twinkle Little Fish went on to play on Broadway. His other children’s plays include Hating Alison Ashley and Talking to Grandma While the World Goes By. He also works as a travel journalist, and speaks fluent Dutch enabling him to write the stage adaptation for The Book of Everything from the original novel.
It was fantastic!
The Belvoir Street theatre is a fairly small venue, the front row of seats is right up against the stage, we were in row C and the kids were quite amused to find that the easiest route to our seats was to walk down the stairs onto the stage and climb up the side of the section to our seats at the far end of the row – much better than climbing over everyone sitting in the rest of the row! The program for the show most unusually included the entire script of the play, Tom has been reading it today. The script is illustrated with the scenery backdrop paintings that were used in the production.
From the script:
This is an ensemble piece; actors not involved in particular scenes sometimes remain on stage, observing, commenting on the action and supplying sound effects and props as required.
(The) design…featured a large copy of Thomas’s book, The Book of Everything, standing upstage centre. Pages were turned during the performance to reveal…the different locations.
This worked brilliantly, the movements of the actors flowed beautifully as they came in and out of the centre stage area and turned the giant book’s pages to change the settings. The fourth wall was somewhat permeable but the many nods and winks to the audience didn’t stop the kids (and me!) from becoming quite involved in the story. There was laughing, gasps of surprise, indrawn breaths of fearful anticipation (that was mostly from Tom) and even tears a couple of times – I had to scrounge a tissue from Adam, rip it in two and give half each to Tom and Caitlin at one point.
During interval the cast went around the audience distributing frogs* for us to throw on stage early in the second act, we were also required to make frog noises – much fun! At the end of the play there was a scene which required rather more people than there were cast members, so audience members were brought on-stage as extras. There were a couple of adults and a handful of kids chosen and the very last to be asked to join in was Caitlin, she didn’t have her hand raised or anything so it was a bit of a surprise and I think she was a little overwhelmed but she rose to the occasion 🙂 It was quite distracting to have my own kid on-stage during the last scene – I kept watching her instead of the actors!
What I really wasn’t expecting (and this will teach me not to check for details of what a play is about before arriving at the venue with the kids!) was the somewhat confronting domestic violence part of the plot with both Thomas and his mother being beaten by the father and the 16 year old sister confronting her father with carving knife in hand. But, being a story intended for kids, there was resolution and healing at the end and it certainly led to interesting conversations about relationships on the way home in the car.
There’s a rather nice preview article on SMH which includes an interview with the 33 year old actor, Matthew Whittet, who played 9 year old Thomas.
*Green ping pong balls 🙂 Had you worried there for a moment didn’t I?