The Book Thief

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Originally programmed for Spring 2021 before Covid was even a word in our vocabulary, The Book Thief has finally had its world premiere at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre and gosh was it worth the wait.

Set in Nazi Germany during WWII, The Book Thief tells the powerful tale of Liesel Meminger who we first meet as a young child, sent to live with a foster family in a desperate bid by her parents to protect her from the creeping evil taking over the country. Liesel’s lower social class means the only way she can get her hands on the literary escapism she yearns for is by stealing it, she is a child without words but through love they will come. Her first opportunity presents itself from the pocket of a gravedigger as her brother is buried, and so the Book Thief is born.

Markus Zusak’s global best-seller is such a beautiful story it feels like it was always destined to make the leap from page to stage especially after being given the Hollywood treatment back in 2013. It is such a beloved book this new musical had to be treated with the utmost care and respect, something director Lotte Wakeham and the creative team have done with abundance, it is quite simply, stunning.

Jodi Picoult and Timothy Allen McDonald have adapted Zusak’s work faithfully doing absolute justice to the globally adored novel while Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson have gifted the piece with stunning melodies and exquisite songs that gently entwine themselves into the narrative.

Every inch of this production feels of the highest quality from Nic Farman’s atmospheric lighting design to Samuel Wilde’s exquisite puppetry, every detail has been crafted to perfection.

Narrating the piece and guiding us through is ‘Death’, portrayed wonderfully by Ryan O’Donnell. Full of warmth, wit, wisdom and warnings, Death reminds us he’ll visit us all one day but the living we do before he arrives is what really counts. O’Donnell is entirely convincing in the role, commanding our attention yet generously guiding our focus to the story unfolding before us.

The role of Liesel is tonight played by Niamh Palmer who is outstanding. On stage for almost the entirety of the evening she embodies the Liesel millions of readers have fallen in love with. Her voice is superb while her acting convinces entirely. The scenes between those she grows to love are meaningful and heartfelt making the themes of love, language and mortality all the more poignant.

This evening’s Rudy is a wonderful Charlie Murphy, he is pure joy on stage & bursts with charisma. His scenes with Niamh Palmer are both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Jack Lord and Danielle Henry as Hans and Rosa Humbermann bring wonderful wit and warmth while Daniel Krikler as Max Vandenberg adds a genuine depth to the piece as the stark reality of life in Nazi Germany plays out. His poignant delivery of ‘Hello, Stars’ offering a whole new meaning to the words since we first heard them at the start of the piece sung so sweetly by Liesel.

While the leads are outstanding this is a true ensemble production, each and every member of the cast give their all. They deliver Tom Jackson Greaves’ stunning choreography with precision; at times it’s joyful, light and celebratory, others, each and every motion portrays the gut-wrenching pain of persecution and loss. The storytelling through movement combined with the powerful script and score make for a perfect marriage, communicating to the audience clearly and carefully.

While there is an ever present feeling that mortality may never be too far away this is a truly beautiful story of hope and the power we all have through the words we use & the choices we make. Words of love not hate, seeds of kindness, a reminder to look to the stars and to never let evil win.

The Book Thief is a total triumph, full of heart, humour and hope. There was laughter, tears and a swelling of genuine emotion as the thundering standing ovation was received. Everything about this show says West End transfer, it’s a truly special piece of theatre which deserves to be seen far and wide. Superb.

The Book Thief is on at Bolton’s Octagon theatre until Saturday 15th October tickets available here.

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