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REVIEW - The Book Thief is a powerful, poignant story told with humour, hope and wonderful music! We highly recommended this show!!!


On Thursday, we were invited to the Octagon in Bolton to watch an incredible new production. Read what our reviewer, Lizzie Johnston had to say about The Book Thief...


The Book Thief is a story that has been told many times before, through a novel and film, but never once as a musical. I went along to the world premiere with my mum not knowing much about the show or story, just the basics - it’s about a young girl in Nazi Germany and she steals a book - that was all. Sometimes going to a show with a lack of knowledge is a blessing because you don’t know what to expect and you can allow yourself to be utterly captivated by the performance, and that is what we did.



At a snow-covered graveside in 1930s Germany, an illiterate girl steals an abandoned book - Liesel's first act of book thievery. As Liesel’s appetite for books grows, so does the Nazi regime and the shadow of death is never far away. When her foster family hides a Jewish boxer in their basement, he teaches Liesel the power of words and together they plant seeds of kindness in a world set against them.



Based on Markus Zusak’s worldwide best-selling novel, the production addresses themes of the Holocaust, death, grief, anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. The story has been adapted by award-winning bestselling author Jodi Picoult (My Sister’s Keeper) and Timothy Allen McDonald (adaptor of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and James and the Giant Peach) with music and lyrics by Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure)



Deciding on stand out moments for The Book Thief is difficult because it was simply just that good. The flow of the show was consistent with no drop of energy at any point, keeping the audience captivated the whole time. What impressed me was how a hard-hitting story with upsetting and tense themes can be portrayed with such humour, light and hope - but I think this just highlighted the painful time that Nazi Germany must have been by embracing this hope and belief that better days will come. 



After the first act, I turned to my mum and we both just said “wow”. It’s so poignant and powerful that we were hooked right from the start. The music is so beautifully crafted that by the end, I left the theatre with ‘Hello Stars’ running around my head as if I’d heard it before, the score has the same bewitching vibe of a Disney musical, moving the story along whilst being a fantastic standalone tune. There was only a small band hidden on the stage and they played every note exquisitely. 



The set had two storeys consisting of the main stage area and a mezzanine floor. The main area was mostly an open space with three doors on wheels which were moved about to change the scene. The mezzanine had high, spaced out shelves with white books neatly placed, resembling a library. The colours were deep and dull, a true representation of the war era and appropriate for the themes of the story. The dull colours allowed the white books to stand out, especially when they were lit up, it was almost blinding how bright they looked. Not forgetting the subtle lights hanging from the ceiling of the theatre, illuminating the stage with a warm glow to create stars. The performers moved around the space beautifully, using up every inch of the stage area, whether it was running up the steps on to the higher level, sitting on the steps, or rolling the doors around to create the streets of Germany.



The actors were all excellent and delivered an exceptional performance. Their comedic timing was spot on, and adding humour and fun to a hard-hitting plot can’t be easy - but they pulled it off. The young company is made up of Niamh Palmer (Shoot for the Moon, Chronicles of a Twisted Tween, Goldfish Boy) and Bea Glancy (The Wizard of Oz, Treasure Island, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) who share the role of Leisel, and Charlie Murphy (Mary Poppins, Matilda Jr, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Jr) and Alfie Corbett (A Christmas Carol, La Boheme, Waitress) who share the role of Rudy. The production we watched had Palmer and Murphy performing, and they are true stars - confident, talented and cute. They commanded the stage and never looked overwhelmed or nervous, they must have been enjoying every second of it because the audience sure did. 



Ryan O’Donnell (Romeo & Juliet, Tina! The Musical, The Crown) played the Narrator. He never left the stage and was always in the background watching the story unfold, despite this, my eye was never drawn to him or distracted by his presence when he wasn’t narrating - and this is everything an excellent Narrator does. His storytelling was beautiful, making the show easy to follow and transition smoothly from scene to scene. 



Rosa Huberman, played by Danielle Henry (Up Against The Wall, Afterlife, My Brilliant Friend), and Hans Huberman, played by Jack Lord (Absurd Person Singular, Treasure Island, Productions for Netflix, Sky, BBC) are a fantastic duo and delivered the bickering, banter and love you expect from a married couple. Both had the audience laughing with their funny remarks and crying with the emotional heartache that saturated that era. 



Daniel Krikler (The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fighting Irish) played Max Vandenberg and gave us a full-bodied, all-around performance showing the different emotions a Jew must have felt during that time. The relationship between Max and Liesel was a portrayal of true friendship and kindness, it was completely heartwarming whenever the pair were together. 



The audience reaction was epic, everyone rose to their feet to give a standing ovation as soon as the bows began. The warmth, kindness and utter heartache meant there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the end. All of this was absolutely well deserved. The show can be summed up by describing it as the poignant storytelling of Les Miserables meets the fun and cheekiness of Matilda. But it’s so much more than just comparable to other shows. It’s got the music, the story, the set, and the talent to really make a name for itself.



If you can, get yourself to the Octagon and experience this stunning production in an intimate setting because soon enough it’ll be hitting the big stages. Remember The Book Thief because it’ll be taking the theatre world by storm.


The Book Thief is at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton until Saturday 15th October








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