Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief has been transformed into a musical, and is playing at the Curve Theatre, Leicester. Profoundly beautiful in its presentation, any doubts about the adaptation will quickly be replaced with appreciation for the fantastic work of the host of talent that brings the story to the stage.
Following the story of young Liesel (Tilly-Raye Bayer, on this occasion) as she learns the meanings of the different colours of the world, devastation at the loss of her little brother causes the need for a graveside robbery - of a book. With her nickname now born, 'The Book Thief' finds comfort in the darkness from this, despite not even knowing how to read. Her traumatic narrative builds as she is shipped off to a new family amid 1940s Nazi Germany, though Liesel's mind is brimming with creativity, and a longing to describe her experiences. Through the people she meets - many with unexpected importance - the little one discovers the impact of power, and the way words hold it.
With constant threat of indoctrination into the strict Nazi regime, and often heartbreaking consequences for any information falling into the wrong hands, the narrator, dubbed as 'Death' itself (played by Obioma Ugoala) sets the scene, allowing fluidity as the harrowing yet adoring tale unfolds... as well as making a few amusing cameos to lighten the mood! Making up the other half of the excellent pair of children, Thommy Bailey-Vine becomes Rudy, the Jesse Owens wannabe (and bit of a flirt!), finding exposure to the hate fluctuating in society at the time, when being forced to hush about his favourite hero, and join the Hitler Youth, though still remaining a good pal to Liesel. Mina Anwar and Jack Lord play her foster parents, Rosa and Hans respectively, with their contrasting personalities making for a great dynamic to unpick. Taking on one of the most dangerous tasks of the time, they must return a favour and hide a Jewish champion boxer named Max (Daniel Krikler) in their cellar without a whiff of suspicion.
An array of crucial symbolism can be seen woven into every line and lyric, adding well-crafted details to the piece through Jodi Picoult and Timothy Allen McDonald's script; music by Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel. Alongside direction from Lotte Wakeham, the staging of the production is appealing, and utilises the space neatly, particularly with sublime choreography throughout, designed by Tom Jackson Greaves - this is especially enjoyable as the cast come together to perform group numbers, as it packs a punch but still ensures to remain thoughtful to the plot. While the set and props are not the heart of the show, this doesn't have overwhelming influence as the investment in characters, and depth of value amid the piece take the lead. There is some charming puppetry (these designed by Samuel Wilde) which are a lovely focal point for their particular scenes.
Unusually, each and every song has its place in the performance, feeling like it fits smoothly, and often adding an element of wonder. A stunning rendition of 'Hello Stars' by Liesel is a moment of baited breath for those watching the character, drawing in the audience as they resonate with the grief she displays, yet refusing to ever let the loss consume her: with numerous connotations, the track also refers to the yellow stars to identify the Jewish population during the war, so various perspectives can be explored. 'In This Book' is another highlight, sung by the company, as well as 'The Challenger'; all simply a display of musical greatness in desperate need of a cast recording.
In all, The Book Thief is the perfect blend of poignant and hopeful. While Liesel seeks solitude in the words that fill her books, we all watch for our escapism into her world as we guide each other through.