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The Book Thief | Belgrade Theatre

In a new and upgraded production following on from its wonderful run in Bolton, The Book Thief is thankfully back with all its charm, beauty and sincerity, ready to steal not just books, but the hearts of its audience too.

Few new musicals on the rise are quite as exciting as The Book Thief: boasting a delightfully pretty score, a compelling story and thought provoking messages, under the writing team of Jodie Picoult and Timothy Allen McDonald, it seems as though Marcus Zusack's award winning best-seller has always been destined for the stage. The novel's scarily timely tale, paired with the complexity of its themes, makes for a story that feels urgent and relevant, both appealing to younger audiences with its youthful playfulness and an older generation with its serious undertones. Sadly in this latest iteration, the mantra of 'less is more' is proved true as with an increased budget, the show forsakes some of its charm and pinpoint perfection it flawlessly achieved previously. This is not to say the show doesn't still hold great promise though; The Book Thief most certainly has an exciting life to come.

Of all the upcoming musicals, The Book Thief stands out with an exceptional score - for those longing for an intricate and charming score amongst the same-y contemporary dirge that plagues the British theatre scene, Samsel and Anderson's score shines as a beacon of hope that exciting new music still has a place on the British stage. Songs such as Have a HeartIn This Book and Late To The Party are memorable ear worms that will no doubt find wide popularity in the musical theatre canon in time to come. The stand out moment of the score, however, is the endlessly touching Hello Stars, which enjoys several touching reprises that continue to impress with their delicate sensibility. An exciting feature of this upgraded production was the increased orchestra: the previously budget-restricted 4 person band failed to capture the spectacular scope of the show's musical identity, and while the orchestra may still only be six strong, the introduction of a second reed part and cello allows for some gorgeous orchestration that provides greater variety and intrigue than ever before.

The set by Good Teeth is a rather baffling mixed bag; first impressions are dulled as the audience are greeted with a sparse, empty and blank stage, whose set consists almost exclusively of blank wood paneling - while I can appreciate tasteful minimalism, there was a harsh un-prettiness that greatly at odds with the beautiful tale being shared. Once the show enters full swing, however, the stage explodes into a world of projection and colour that can only be lauded to the highest extent. While the word 'projection' may deter some, be assured that these by Dick Straker are some of the most tasteful, artistic and skillfully executed projections on a British stage as of now: the storybook-like illustrations that set the scene feel perfectly apt, and lend a sense of authenticity to the production. Their transformative influence over the set allows for a wonderful sense of dynamic energy, compliment perfectly by the always flowing choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves.

Unfortunately, despite all its newfound technical prowess, this newer production lacks the touching and intimate humanity that previously made it a masterpiece - much of the performance is lost amongst the spectacular visuals, and with that the simplistic poignancy of such a beautiful show. There was something homely and inviting within its past iteration that, with the transferal to a larger stage, has been replaced with a far colder and isolated tone. Because of this, much of the humour fails to land - the role of comedy in a show about Nazism is a tightrope that should be walked carefully, and is somewhat blundered here. That being said, there's a lot to be loved about this scaled-up production: the grander scale gives this important story a much needed presence and impact, and the moments of spectacle used sparingly to perfect measure have a thrilling effect on the otherwise one-note plot.

I have a great deal of excitement for The Book Thief, and for good reason; very few new works possess the same creative spark that this wonderful piece of theatre does. Lotte Wakeham and her tour-de-force of creatives have crafted a piece that is so impactful that it continues to shine through the occasional disappointing change. The resounding result: a refreshingly original piece of work that is as entertaining as it is beautifully touching.


{AD | Gifted} Photography by Pamela Raith


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