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Auckland Arts Festival: The Book of Everything - review

Mar 15, 2015 Theatre

Step by step, the festival is building up its must-see shows. Macbeth, Hikoi, Lake St Dive and Neneh Cherry, on my list. And now The Book of Everything. It runs till next Sunday, but don’t leave it late. This show deserves to book out.

Why so good? It’s a confronting play about domestic violence. And it’s for kids, as in, kids from about 10, although without question it’s for adults too. Amsterdam, early 1950s, fundamentalist white Christian family… in so many ways this play seems like it might be culturally alien to us here. But it’s not. No recent local work I know of comes remotely as close as this to unpicking the dark secret of so many New Zealand homes.

It wouldn’t work if it was just a horror show. The Book of Everything is a story told by Thomas, who is “nearly 10”, and who keeps a diary, conjures Jesus as an imaginary friend, falls for a 16-year-old “cripple” and has the courage to visit the local “witch” in her home. It’s a story about how imagination can ride to our rescue. And about how community – people being brave together – can rescue victims. Because of its faith in those things, it has a wonderfully cathartic climax. If you do take kids and the unfolding story makes them anxious, don’t leave. The ending is liberating and triumphant.

Also, it wouldn’t really work if it wasn’t superbly presented. This production is full of marvellous character turns: Rima Te Wiata as a complex, hilarious idiosyncratic neighbour (she’s the “witch”); the wonderfully clever Tim Carlsen as a fey, subversive Jesus; Mia Blake as the mother, an actor who can move you to tears with her stillness and the way she holds her head; Sam Snedden, giving us all the confusion and fear of the bully who doesn’t know how to stop.

And at the heart of them all, Patrick Carroll as Thomas, giving us the child without any of the irritating quirks that usually beset adults playing children. He’s an actor of clarity, precision and enormous charm.

Supporting them, John Verryt’s set is a terrific European expressionist pile, evocatively lit by Sean Lynch, and there’s a captivating sound design, complete with onstage foley work, by Thomas Press. For all of this, Silo Theatre’s new artistic director Sophie Roberts should take a deep, deep bow. She’s inaugurated her time in charge with a truly great show.

I know, I’m raving. I don’t always, not by any means. But this one, I loved.

The Book of Everything: Q Rangatira, until March 22. aucklandfestival.co.nz

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