We’ve had a few guest reviewers lately but this one came in with just perfect timing. Lynda Hewitt got in touch offering to do a review of the Incredible Book Eating Boy for us. The timing was perfect because although we’d been to see this fantastical and magical kids play, we just hadn’t time to do our review!
So with perfect timing and a great review, here is Lynda’s much appreciated contribution….
Some days parenthood is wrapped in the fluffy love of lazy mornings under the duvet with your sprog telling you how much it loves you. Some days parenthood leaves you wondering what you did wrong to deserve the punishment for reproducing that takes the form of soft play centres – where too many screaming kids are locked in a small padded area, fed E numbers and encouraged to scream and run and lick up their own vomit to save their mothers exerting the energy needed to take off their shoes, climb in and wipe it up.
My week started in the soft play centre. Thankfully, I had tickets booked the next day for the MAC’s run of The Incredible Book Eating Boy, the perfect dark room antidote to the day before. They could have put a stuffed sloth on stage and I would have enjoyed it so long as they kept the lights down and the kids silent. But that’s where theatre for children meets its biggest challenge: keeping the kids quiet and glued to their seats before they turn it into their very own soft play centre with plush velvet cushions and expensive lighting rigs to dangle off. So did the MAC and Cahoots NI pull it off?
The Incredible Book Eating Boy is an adaption of Oliver Jeffers’ book of the same name, about a little boy called Henry who isn’t very clever. By accident, he eats a book and is ecstatic when the words are absorbed into his brain – all very well until he eats one too many hardbacks and suffers from the constitutional equivalent of writers’ block. Henry must learn to slow down and read the books word by word to become clever and to avoid the spite of his classmates and the wrath of the librarian, who isn’t too pleased with the whereabouts of her collection.
If you know any of Belfast-born Jeffers’ books (Lost and Found, That Moose Belongs to Me, How to Catch a Star, The Way Back Home, Stuck, Up and Down), you’ll know his lightness of touch when dealing with big world issues in a little person way. This adaptation by Conor Mitchell is no different. Henry is big on dreams but short on friends. His classmates are ghastly and the adults in his life are wet (teacher) and clueless (father). His best friend is his goldfish Ginger and Henry’s whimsical geekery is played brilliantly by Stuart Matthews, his little boy lost learning how to sparkle by the end of the play.
Other strong performances come from the Maestro, who lets just enough warmth into his detached persona to not frighten away the younger children; and the Latin-dancing Librarian (Colette Lennon), who would give Mrs Robinson a run for her money if Henry were to return to the library in his teens.
But the biggest star is the stage production itself. It hits back at a 3D generation with all the depth and eccentricity of a child’s mind, linked by ladders and stuffed with imaginary characters; laced up by live orchestral music and sprinkled with illusion and magic and dance. At times, some of the actors drowned in the melee, but their characters’ authority will no doubt grow throughout the play’s run as they learn to compete on par with the visual and acoustic elements of the spectacular. (Footnote: there’s absolutely no need for the horrendous school children to grow in authority – they were repulsive to the point I wished Roald Dahl could step in and write them a gristly ending as they never quite got the comeuppance they deserved).
The Incredible Book Eating Boy is the annotated theatre of a child’s mind, filled with noise and colour and imagination above and beyond the words in the original book. And in its celebration of the printed word as a door to childhood adventures, the play is a must-see. But don’t just take my word for it: There were several school groups and a nursery class in the audience when I was there – and there wasn’t a peep from any of them. To have so many under eights hanging on words rather than rafters is quite an achievement. Parents: give the soft play centre a miss for once and try out this play. If only for your own sanity.
The Incredible Book Eating Boy runs at The MAC until Jan 1st, 2013. For more information, please visit: The Mac.