Basil Jones (Thomas) and Despina Panagiotopoulos (Stage Manager) discuss the upcoming Burgmann Residents’ Association production of Richard Tulloch’s “The Book of Everything”.
KC: Although The Book of Everything is award winning, I personally know little about it – can you give me a brief synopsis?
DP: It’s pretty hard to sum up without giving away the whole plot. Essentially, it’s about a young boy who is quite imaginative and creative, growing up in a religiously conservative household. It is about him, and the people around him, discovering the world outside these religious confines.
BJ: There are a lot of elements to it. Jumping between domestic violence, the innocence of youth, all these sort of things – it’s very hard to encapsulate in a few words.
KC: Would a lot of the themes relate to university audiences?
BJ: A lot of them are viewed through the eyes of this young boy, a different lens to how we typically perceive it.
DP: There’s a bit of everything. There’s a bit of romance, a bit of growing up, which of course, we’re still doing as university students.
KC: So it’s a Dutch book that has been translated by an Australian Playwright (Richard Tulloch)?
DP: It was originally a Children’s book that has been translated.
BJ: There’s still some Dutch language in there. It’s still very context heavy.
KC: Cool. Basil, who do you play?
BJ: I play Thomas, the young boy in the play. The play is as much a progression of Thomas, as it is his family. He is a very optimistic, bright young boy who views the world very differently to most people. How that manifests is that he talks to people who aren’t there. He sees things that don’t exist. He’s very kind, very imaginative. A lot of the play is him juggling his relationships with people around him and learning as he goes along. He’s pretty special.
DP: The imagination is something that is very endearing in the play, it adds a bit of magic to it.
KC: How do you think your production conveys this imagination through the set design and props and so on?
DP: We’ve find this quite challenging. Our main method is through magic – we have chimey magical music for moments that are in Thomas’ imagination. The set is also a big part of it. There will be a massive book that will represent the one that Thomas himself is writing, it will have his sketches in it, so a lot of the magic will come through the book as it shows how he imagines the world to be.
BJ: A lot of the beauty of the play is in its simplicity. The audience will play along, there are a lot of imaginative scenes, but it’s not overdoing anything.
KC: Despina, the Stage Manager is one of the most versatile roles within the Production Team, and it tends to vary a lot – how would you define your role?
DP: I reckon I have one of the best roles – you get to dip your toes into everything. It includes coming to rehearsals and getting to stage the actual show, but it also allows you to be very creative by getting props together, designing the set, and working with actors one-on-one with character development. It is very versatile and so much fun! Basically, it is bringing to life the whole production.
KC: Basil, what was your process of working with the Director to develop your character?
BJ: It’s an interesting dynamic having the Director (Eden Lim) and Stage Manager as your best friends at college. The Director helped me mold the character off people I already knew. Taking it back to my own siblings and embodying the characteristics of the child I wanted to be. Putting myself into the frame of mind of this kid and then figuring out his relations with those around him. I find it quite easy to bounce off the other characters in the play.
KC: I find the beauty of college productions is that they tend to involve people who have never been in theatre before. Have you guys been involved in theatre much previously?
DP: So I’ve been involved in a lot, but mostly backstage stuff, never really as much responsibility as what I’ve taken on now. I know one of the cast members hasn’t really acted before, and it’s great that she gets a chance.
BJ: I’ve done a bit of acting, but mostly musicals, so it has been interesting to bring my experience from where everything is over-the-top into something more subtle.
KC: Here’s an easy one – what is your favourite moment of the play?
DP: Something comes to mind but it’s not a very happy scene.
BJ: She means the carving knife – it is the tipping point of the play in the second act. You can see the family come together and pull away again. Everything has been leading up to this point, and it’s easy to forget your acting in that scene.
DP: That’s why it’s such a joy to watch. There is such good chemistry between the family members as they stand up against domestic violence and religious conservatism. The build up to that scene is incredible to watch. Every time we do it, I get goose bumps.
BJ: I’d go with that one or any scene with Jesus. Not sure if they are real or introspective moments, just some light-hearted banter with Jesus.
KC: Any final thoughts?
BJ: At the heart of this piece is children’s theatre. The message is optimistic – it’s viewed through a kid’s eyes. An important part of what we’re doing is telling the story to an audience that is a bit more mature than those who would usually watch it.
DP: It’s great to have a creative outlet, and to have a vision and bring it to life. It’s just so much fun.
The Book of Everything, written by Richard Tulloch, opens on the 24th August at the ANU Drama Lab.