Octagon Theatre, Bolton – until 15 October 2022
Guest reviewer: Rebecca Hampson
The Octagon Theatre is currently home to the world premiere of the new musical based on the novel by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief.
The play begins with an introduction from our Narrator, played by Ryan O’Donnell who sets the scene of Nazi Germany and follows the story of Liesel, played by Niamh Palmer. Palmer shines among her cast of elders and I was mesmerised by her vocal talent. She brings Liesel to life in a way that is truly entrancing and we feel every emotion alongside her in this harrowing story. Her character is courageous and proud, and becomes very close friends with a Jewish Boxer named Max when they begin hiding him from the Nazis in their basement.
Max, played by Daniel Krinkler, is the stand out performer for me in this production. His emotion and diction is impeccable in musical numbers such ‘Hello Stars Reprise’. His interaction with Liesel is spectacular and I was overcome with emotion during the musical number ‘In This Book’. We feel empathy for his character who is prejudiced against for simply being different, for being himself, for being Jewish.
Whilst the actions of the Nazis during this play are something we hope history will never repeat, the play sends an important message and reminder of how kindness grows to be so much more than hatred could ever be.
The atmosphere in the theatre is magical and the set design by Good Teeth is impeccable. The musical is based on the book, The Book Thief and so the numerous books that act both as lighting and a reminder of the importance of books is an element to the design I found particularly pleasing.
High regard must also be given to the puppet designer Samuel Wilde. The use of puppetry throughout and in the final scenes of the play make it particularly moving. I found myself seated at the edge of my seat entranced and amazed at how the puppets became as real as the characters on stage operating them.
This musical is outstanding and I have many hopes that we will soon see it on the West End and Broadway. This if not a play to miss. It is harrowing, it is emotional, it is endearing. If you’re a lover of the book or a lover of musicals this is one for you.
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