The Bookbinder (FRINGEWORLD 2015)

Review by Laura Money

This charming and original work was first performed intimately to an audience of just fifteen in the back room of a second-hand bookshop. After taking New Zealand by storm the team at Trick of the Light went on to win Best Theatre, Best in the Fringe, and the Tiki Tour Ready Award at the NZ Fringe awards. It is a truly intimate and romantic work that will delight old and young alike.

Sitting in the darkened room with soft, golden lamplight illuminating the single figure of Ralph McCubbin Howell dressed as an old-fashioned bookbinder, slumped on a cluttered desk snoring loudly it is easy to feel the comfort and familiarity of childhood. Those adventure stories recited or created under the comforts of bed-sheets, blankets that transform ordinary furniture into forts and womb-like structures are evoked by the gentle storytelling McCubbin Howell launches into. He has a glint in his eye and a playful smile hints on his lips – the story is of a young bookbinder’s apprentice and how he got lost in a good book – quite literally.

As the story unfolds it takes on those mythical qualities we are all familiar with. A young boy leaving his family to seek his fortune, it is a coming of age in the era of guilds and craftsmen. McCubbin Howell’s lilting voice seamlessly switches from character to character and you are transported to the bookbinder’s shop. The cautionary tale is beautifully enhanced by the use of stunningly elaborate paper pop-ups and simple puppetry. It draws you in and immerses you for 55 minutes into a world of comforting familiarity and also the adventure of the unknown.

Charming, witty and beautifully presented this is a show for anyone who grew up hearing tales of intrigue, adventure and fable. Or, if you are encountering them for the first time, this is the perfect tale to dip your toes into. The Bookbinder is exquisitely timeless.

The Bookbinder played at the Blue Room Theatre as part of FRINGEWORLD 2015.