What on Stage
5 stars out of 5
The Book Thief at Curve, Leicester – review
The show had its world premiere last year in Bolton
Young Liesel has lost everything; her family, her home and now she’s bearing witness to the Holocaust in wartime Germany. Living with adopted parents, she befriends her neighbour, Rudy, and a Jewish man, Max, who they harbour in their cellar.
Jodi Picoult and Timothy Allen McDonald have adapted Markus Zusak’s beloved novel for the stage with care. Peppered with curse words, wonderful wordplay, and humour, The Book Thief looks, sounds, and feels so very raw and human – particularly with the blend of regional dialects, accents, and languages.
The cast, affectionately credited as “storytellers” in the programme, fill the storybook set with soul. When they all come together it’s like magic. Tom Jackson Greaves’ charming lyrical choreography gently transitions into scene changes as long skirts swish in the darkness, and books are used as guiding lights.
Projections (designed by Dick Straker) of hand-drawn terraced houses and homes marked for death in the Jewish ghettos fill the paneled two-storey set (by Good Teeth) featuring a cellar that unfolds like a hidden room in a doll’s house, and a library with spines of opportunity. It’s soaked in sepia lighting (by Nic Farman) with earthy tones and textures that ground the production and makes it feel intimate.
Music plays lovingly into the narrative with original songs by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson that convey a full sweep of emotions; from the empathetic boom of “Have A Heart”, a twee ode to stars, and the “Oom-Pah-Pah”-esque knees-up that celebrates joining the Nazi party. Rudy’s (played at this performance by a cheeky Oliver Gordon) key numbers are twinged with childhood nostalgia. Musical director Matthew Malone leads a band that makes the sound swell with romanticism and hope before crashing with grief.
Eirini Louskou took on the title role in an assured and emotive turn – especially in the imaginative scenes shared with unlikely friend Max, played beautifully by Daniel Krikler. ‘It’s so cold outside, when you speak words become clouds,’ she innocently tells him in her daily weather report.
Mina Anwar and Jack Lord step into the shoes of Liesel’s chalk and cheese foster parents; one teaches Liesel to read and calm her nightmares, the other engages in begrudged arguments with a neighbour, but both hold an accordion and each other close. They bring comic relief, and at times, so does Obioma Ugoala as the Narrator of the piece. At others, representing death he speaks directly to the audience and looms and lingers in foreshadowing scenes. It’s a triumphant performance that booms through his whole body.
Director Lotte Wakeham has made a gracious and respectful adaptation of Zusak’s profound words – bringing to life the wonder of whimsical puppets made from paper and the horrors of war as seen through a child’s eyes.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, it stole my heart.