‘The Book of Everything’
Belvoir and Theatre of Image at Melbourne Theatre Company
“Might I first add” before I say anything about this show, I need to say this. You should NEVER take a young child to a theatre production if it’s meant for people older than them. This fantastic show was meant for 9+ but I saw kids maybe 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It’s like the parents don’t even read the program.
Last Saturday, me and my friend Dev went to see a theatre show called ‘The Book of Everything’. It was pretty much about a 9 year old boy called Thomas whose father forced his views onto the whole family. It was set in Post WWII Amsterdam. Things were changing – and not just for women. It had strong independent female characters; Eliza the girl next door with the squeaking leather leg (sadly 16); Margot, Thomas’ feisty sister; the eccentric hoarder Mrs Van Amersfoort; the proud pants-wearing Aunty Pie and his Mamma.
‘The Book of Everything’ was sort of Thomas’ diary, written without his father knowing. Something he could write secretly, instead of being suppressed by his father.
Mr Klopper, Thomas’ father was extremely conservative. He was single-minded and there was only one book that mattered to him and that was The Bible. He was the man of the house and everything and everyone was beneath him. The times changed after the war, but he wasn’t changing with them. He was extremely violent with his wife and his son. There was a menacing presence about him and the family did not feel comfortable or happy around him. When his wife hit back, he beat her to the floor in front of the children. It reminded me of Mrs Van Ammerfoort telling Thomas about when the Nazis had made everyone watch when they shot her husband.
Thomas built relationships outside of the house and family. His father painted a picture of a stern, cold, unloving Jesus. But in Thomas’ mind, Jesus was just like everyone else. He had problems with his Dad too. Jesus flashed in and out of Thomas’ life. They talked many times, but they were conversations, not prayers. He was sick of being nailed to the cross every year, and sick of being High & Mighty so please, call him ‘Jesus’. He was always reminding Thomas that he was special.
His neighbour, the mysterious Mrs Van Amersfoort lends Thomas books. When he asks what the books are for, she answers, “for fun”. Thomas had never seen books as fun, because books had always had to mean something – either from school or The Bible. But he finds out he’s a fantastic reader and Mrs Van Amersfoort is enchanted by him reading out loud: “Swans have cygnets. Seals have puppies. But guppies just have little guppies” by Ogden Nash. In Mrs Van Amersfoort’s case, people judged her like they judge a book by its cover. She is scrutinised by the public eye because she dresses in dark clothing and she’s old, lives alone and is a confident women. She has a fun-loving, childlike personality and her life is full of wonder and she loves to have visitors because she is lonely.
The women band together. A Reading Out Loud Club date is set but the father still can’t think while sitting next to an open window.
They had very few props – mostly chairs and a table. They changed settings very often because each scene was played out in front of a massive book and the characters who were not used in that scene would turn the pages to a different setting.
‘The Book of Everything’ shows the importance of the written word and how that can affect somebody and change their situation.