Review: The Book of Everything

Bruce Hall’s 2012 Production

The Book of Everything by Richard Tulloch

Drama Lab, ANU Arts Centre

From plagues of frogs and bum-biting dogs to social commentary on patriarchy and domestic abuse, Bruce Hall’s 2012 production The Book of Everything is a smorgasbord of vignettes, foibles, and comedy, and yet manages to tell a challenging and mature story.

Adapted from a Dutch children’s novel by Gus Kuijer, The Book of Everything is about the experiences of nine-year old Amsterdam resident Thomas Klopper, played by a hyperactive and Ritalin-deprived Alex Battye. Along with his sister Margot (Eliza Thompson) and his mother (Alex Fogg), Thomas lives under the abusive patriarchy of his ferocious, god-fearing father (Tim Crundell).  Through his naive eyes, we see the struggles of his dysfunctional family and a society still recovering from the scars of Nazi occupation. But Thomas is an imaginative and plucky kid. He spends much of his time jotting down his thoughts, having fantastical visions, and chatting with his imaginary buddy Jesus.

Despite its deeply religious overtones, the story is at its heart a coming-of-age tale in which Thomas comes to understand the world around him and acquires a sense of agency and self-worth. Recognition must be given to Director Ellie Greenwood and Assistant Director Simon McKenzie for their careful handling of the sensitive topic of domestic violence to great effect, even managing to elicit a few sniffles and tears among the audience in the play’s darkest scenes.

Though the acting was a mixed bag at times, the characters quickly grow on you. Special mention must go to Alex Fogg as Thomas’s mother, Jenna Maurer as Thomas’s neighbour and mentor Mrs Van Amersfort, and Stephen Watson as a hilariously “cool” and self-deprecating Jesus of Nazareth. Likewise, despite some elementary issues with blocking, pacing, and upstaging, the play was able to finish on an engaging and bittersweet note.

From its tiny cast to its hand-drawn background set to its meagre three night run, the production was ultimately a very modest and intimate affair. While it did not have the glitz and glamour of other residential college plays this year, one cannot but feel that it benefitted from a conscious decision to steer away from flashy showmanship. In fact, it is refreshing to see that the Bruce Hall play is no longer a mishmash of pointless in-jokes, irrelevant rewrites, and poorly improvised silliness. It finally feels like Bruce Hall is getting its theatrical vigour back, and I certainly look forward to its return to a more humble and coherent form of stagecraft.