[Everyone has their Reasons]
After a successful run last year, and with some changes in cast (hello Stephen Lovatt, Amanda Billing, Amanda Tito and Dan Musgrove), The Book of Everything makes a welcome return to the Auckland stage.
Thomas (Patrick Carroll) is a young boy growing up in post-war Holland. Struggling under the thumb of his abusive, ultra-religious father Abel (Stephen Lovatt), the young boy uses any avenue he can find to try and break away from Father’s restrictive and punitive worldview.
Managing to juggle several meaty ideas without feeling one-note or didactic is a difficult task, but playwright Richard Tulloch (from the novel by Guus Kuijer) manages to do so with wit and warmth.
The play is extremely stylised, taking place on a multi-level, matte black set with set dressing (windows, fish tanks, wall art etc) represented via chalk drawings. This does lead to some ‘cute’ stage business: every time Thomas’s family sits down to dinner, Mother (Amanda Billing) draws a plate in front of every seating place.
With a less careful directorial hand these touches could easily slip into a load of extraneous Brechtian noise between the players and the audience, but under Sophie Roberts’ guidance they never come off that way. Stripped of unnecessary miss-en-scene (aided by some excellent sound design from Thomas Press), we are able to hone in on the characters. While it can be seen as a way of externalising Thomas’s imagination, this stripped down aesthetic works for the play’s setting. We find ourselves in a country still gripped by the enforced austerity and shortages of post-WW2 life, and the puritanical Christianity Abel imposes on his home.
Jean Renoir once said that “the awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons.” While the set may look two-dimensional, the characters certainly are not. None of these characters, not even Thomas’s thuggish patriarch, are without sympathy. Everyone, even Jesus frickin’ Christ (played with casual omnipotence by Dan Musgrove), feels like a recognisable human being.
Patrick Carroll is simply terrific as Thomas, embodying our young hero’s naiveté without lapsing into caricature. Stephen Lovatt matches him as Father — a bitter, small minded man so terrified of the world changing outside that he will do anything to preserve the sanctity of his home and the ‘truth’ of his god. Amanda Billing and Amanda Tito, as Thomas’s mother and sister respectively, are also great. There really is not a false note here. Jennifer Ward-Lealand turns up for a few scenes as Auntie Pie, lending her brief role a bolshy, rabble-rousing humour. Rima Te Wiata’s performance as Thomas’s witchy neighbour Mrs. van Amersfoort is kooky but never one note. Sardonic but capable of childish delight, she epitomises the overall effect of the show.
Though filled with surreal moments of fantasy and stagecraft, The Book of Everything never feels sugar coated. Drawing upon the moral confusion of the post-war period, as one generation deals with its actions in the heat of war, and another, younger generation seeks to comprehend and move beyond that mindset, The Book of Everything tackles this trauma with an unflinching, yet empathetic point of view.
Overall, this is a terrific show with an excellent cast, which manages to combine an ambitious level of production value and style with a set of complex themes which are developed with a deft and subtle touch. One could only wish there were more productions like it. This show is everything.
The Book of Everything is presented by Silo Theatre and plays at Q until 25 Feb. Details see Silo.