Canberra Rep’s latest production, The Book of Everything, follows the story of Thomas Klopper (played by Lachlan Ruffy), nine years old (he insists he’s almost 10) and his family in 1950s Amsterdam.
The play, based on a children’s story first published in 2004 by Dutch writer Guus Kuijer, was adapted for the stage by Australian playwright Richard Tulloch in 2010.
Tulloch’s play has had considerable success, winning a number of awards including a Helpmann Award in 2010 and the Sydney Theatre Award for best production for Children.
The Book of Everything was a huge success on opening night in Canberra at Theatre 3.
The adult audience laughed its way through the show, and people stamped their feet on the floor in approval at the end.
But in my understanding, the play is also meant to include young people in its potential audience base (although Canberra Rep advises it is not for young children). I thought it was, in fact, an anti-religious satire that would have frightened or confused many young people.
It seemed like a curious mix of Aussie, laid-back blokey-ness, exemplified by the figure of Lord Jesus (Miles Thompson) who rocks up every so often to interact with Thomas, and religious fundamentalism, exemplified by the figure of Mr Klopper (Jerry Hearn), father of Thomas.
The story follows the desire of Thomas to grow up happy. And that’s a perfectly understandable desire given the domineering personality of his father who bashes his mother (Lainie Hart), uses the wooden spoon on Thomas, and who generally rules the house with an iron fist and the Bible.
Along the way there appears an assortment of other characters who play a role in Thomas’ life. In addition to Lord Jesus they include an older sister, Margot (Madeline Kennedy), Aunty Pie (Liz de Totth), whose activities are also subject to unreasonable control by her husband, and Eliza (Tamina Koehne-Drube), Margot’s friend.
There are a number of poignant, serious, thought-provoking moments and themes running through the play. Perhaps the most interesting character is the Kloppers’ neighbour, Mrs Amersfoort (Helen Vaughan-Roberts), who is old, wears black and has a cat and is therefore thought by the younger members of the neighbourhood to be a witch.
Mrs Amersfoort and her husband, who was executed by the Nazis, fought in the Dutch resistance, a story which she recounts to Thomas at one stage. Sadly, I thought the balance between these more adult themes and the more childish elements and naive jokes was seriously lacking.
I enjoyed Andrew Kay’s set design, which transformed a facade of Dutch-style buildings into a range of settings using the ingenious device of panels that swung open like doors to reveal an interior.
But, as a whole, this play seemed to sit between two worlds, that of the child and that of the adult. I found it unsophisticated in dealing with adult themes. I can’t speak for children.
Not suitable for young children.
THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING
By Richard Tulloch, adapted from the novel by Guus Kuijer. Directed by Ed Wightman. Canberra Repertory Society, Theatre 3. Until September 28, Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm. Matinees September 21, 22 and 28 at 2pm.
Tickets: full $40, Concession $35. Bookings: 62571950 or canberrarep.org.au.