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Written by Ralph McCubbin Howell
Directed by Hannah Smith
Presented by Trick of the Light Theatre
They say you can get lost in a good book.
But it’s worse to get lost in a bad one…
From award-winning company Trick of the Light Theatre (The Road That Wasn’t There) comes a story of mystery, magic and mayhem. The Bookbinder weaves shadowplay, paper art, puppetry, and music into an original dark fairytale in the vein of Coraline and Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell. An inventive one-man performance for curious children and adventurous adults… suitable for children 8+.
WHIMSICAL THEATRICAL ARTEFACT
Reviewed by John Smythe, 20 Feb 2014
Upstairs at Arty Bees Bookshop, between the ‘Sociology’ and ‘Personal Development & Relationships’ stacks, there is a door. An old-fashioned ‘Apprentice Wanted’ sign is stuck to it and it leads to yet another room of books.
It is here we discover the ageless figure and craft of the titular Bookbinder (Ralph McCubbin Howell), bearded, aproned and bespectacled, bent over his meticulous task in the glow of an equally bendable desk lamp.
He cranks up an antique gramophone with a splendid golden horn to mark the start of the play and welcomes us – a necessarily small audience in this cosy room – as “the applicant”.
Gruff yet genial, he sets out the qualifications for the job (some surprises here), introduces us to the tools of the trade and asserts the bookbinder’s cardinal rules: “Don’t get lost in the book you’re repairing”, “Never cut corners” (except, of course, when you literally do) and, “Never do anything that cannot be undone”. Thus the foundations are set for a cautionary tale that allows for redemption.
In telling the tale of how a previous apprentice overestimated himself and got into strife, the Bookbinder employs the illustrated pages of a wonderfully constructed pop-up book, designed by Ralph and the play’s director Hannah Smith, who also made it.
The desk lamp is also cleverly articulated, the gramophone horn has a lovely cameo, black ink in a glass jug of water creates a splendid effect and a standard lamp allows for some delightful shadow puppetry. Tane Upjohn Beatson’s original music and Jen Curry’s subtle sound effects complete the highly imaginative ‘picture’.
It all begins when an old woman brings in an even older book in for repair and the Apprentice begs his “Gaffer” to let him do the job. Pride, fear, guilt and a glimmering thread of potential romance are stitched into the increasingly convoluted story …
I have to confess there are times when I can’t see the story for words. There is some tidying up to be done so that some of the stitching is invisible, allowing the story to ‘leap from the page’ unencumbered. There is something about a broken leg that doesn’t quite gel for me, for example, and I get lost with the references to “the book of the world” and “the gap in the world [being] too big”.
Nevertheless I do see how one transgression can drop you into a swirling tide of all the others still unforgiven and unresolved. And I do see that redemption is achieved, even if I am unclear as to how. Maybe it’s just a matter of pacing; of light and shade.
This is a first outing for The Bookbinder, of course, and its ambitions are to be applauded. Having followed The Road That Wasn’t There (which won Most Promising New Director, New New Zealand Play and Production of the Year at last year’s Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards) with their Bats/Stab production Broken River, Trick of the Light “wanted to make something that was intimate and immediate, engaging and surprising, kind of like reading a book,” their programme note says. “We wanted to tell a story about the way stories are constructed, and we wanted to spin a good yarn.”
I have no doubt they will keep working to perfect this whimsical theatrical artefact.
Best Theatre and Best in the Fringe – NZ Fringe 2014
International Excellence Award – Sydney Fringe 2014
“Spell-binding storytelling at its purest and best…” – Theatreview
“Absorbing and imaginative… a small gem of theatre” – The Dominion Post
“Tuned to perfection… Bookworms of all stripes and ages will adore it.” – The Age, Melbourne
For more information visit www.trickofthelight.co.nz