It’s not every day that you stumble across a play that is as enchanting as
Within a good book you can find threat, danger, magic and wonder - this production has all of these in spades.
At first the story seems as straightforward as the staging. Seated at a single desk on a small stage, addressing the audience as one person, Ralph McCubbin Howell quickly settles into his tale of the last brave young man to hold the role of Bookbinder Apprentice. As you may have guessed, this job is not as straightforward as it seems, and it turns out that there are dangerous and magical perils in store should one stray from the rules.
This isn’t your average Disney fairytale: there’s more than a hint of The Brothers Grimm in the macabre consequences that threaten to await our young hero, as a result of his impatience and cheating. I won’t spoil the story but young children need not be frightened; I promise you, however, that older families will most certainly not be bored either.
Howell masterfully conjures each and every character whilst also narrating this tale, whether through paper mache, shadow puppetry or several entertaining impersonations. I could have easily closed my eyes and listened, such was the clarity of the narrative and Howell’s delivery - but this would have missed out on some truly spectacular visuals.
One such moment was when, as our hero grew tired and needed rest, the desk lamp providing our main source of light is lowered ever closer to the desk above a solitary paper mache model, bringing into sharp focus a sense of the encroaching darkness and the loneliness that comes with it. Seconds later, the same lamp is flipped up towards the ceiling to create the moonlit sky, then carried around and used to silhouette Howell against the wall; exploiting these endless opportunities to transform the space is just a part of what makes this show such a delight to witness.
Within a good book you can find threat, danger, magic and wonder - this production has all of these in spades. You don’t need to be young, or even young at heart, to appreciate the mastery at work in this piece. Indulge your belief in all things magic, just for an hour; you won’t regret it.