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The Power of Words

Daniel Krikler, The Book Thief. Photo courtesy of Pamela Raith Photography.

The Book Thief, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, 11 - 16 September.

Review by Barbara Goulden.

Strange to have a musical based in Nazi Germany but the producers of this adaptation of the famous novel of the same name wanted to reach back to the days of Cabaret and Fiddler on the Roof for stories with a message gift-wrapped in strong tunes and gripping choreography.

Personally, I wasn't sure they entirely succeeded during Act One as the live musical balance seemed to be slightly off and while the speaking voices were loud and clear, it was hard to distinguish some of the lyrics. Things did improve after the interval.

This is a major touring production with director Lotte Wakeham intent on depicting the power of rhetoric in a world she feels could so easily again fall prey to false prophets pedalling fake news.

On Tuesday night (12 Sept) history was seen through the eyes of schoolgirl Liesel, the " thief" herself tenderly played by Eirini Louskou with Oliver Gordon as her lively friend Rudy, a little boy obsessed with the black American runner Jessie Owens. On other days these roles will be shared between Tilly-Raye Bayer, Mollie Casserley, Preston Cropp and Thommy Bailey Vine.

Oonagh Cox, Daniel Krikler, Obioma Ugoala, Edwin Ray. The Book Thief. Photo courtesy of Pamela Raith Photography.

In fact, one of the new songs, co-written by novelist Jodi Picoult, is called "Look at Jessie Owens." Not a wise thing to do in 1940s Germany. More rousing numbers include "Late to the Party", and for poignancy "Have a Heart."

I particularly enjoyed the spark between John Lord as Hans and Mina Anwar as his ever-complaining wife If you haven't read the book they are the couple who foster Liesel because they need the money.... but they take risks to house someone in even more need than her.

I also enjoyed the gravity of Obioma Ugoala, who narrates this tale in the grand role of Death, along with one or two other characters we meet along the way.

On Tuesday I know others in the audience shared my difficulty in hearing all of the lyrics in the early scenes but thoroughly enjoyed the choreography and touching quirkiness of a musical that has emerged from the dark, award-winning novel by Markus Zusak.

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