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The Book Thief - Review

Written by Mark Johnson
Disclaimer: the ticket was gifted in return for an honest review - reviewed at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre.


Life, death and the power of words are at the core of the musical stage adaption of Markus Zusak's 2005 novel The Book Thief as it's revived following a 2022 run at Bolton's Octagon Theatre.

Zusak's novel has been adapted for the stage by Jodi Picoult and Timothy Allen McDonald who manage to strike a balance between the darker, grittier moments of the story whilst adding enough light too. Undoubtedly, the production is touching and quite moving, especially in the second act.

Daniel Krikler and the cast of The Book Thief. Photo by Pamela Raith

The tone is set from the get go as Obioma Ugoala's Narrator enters the stage and utters the first line "here is a small fact, you are all going to die" and off the plot goes. The opening number 'Have A Heart' sets up much of the plot and gives the audience an instant window into the world. The setting is 1940s Nazi Germany during the World War Two where we meet young Liesel and discover her background and that she finds herself in the foster care of the Rosa and Hans Hubermann (Mina Anwar and Jack Lord). 'Have A Heart' also gives the theme of the power of words and kindness that is at the core of the piece and flows throughout. 

Liesel one day steals a book and begins a journey to discover how books can be life changing. When the Hubermanns offer refuge to Max Vanderberg (Daniel Krikler), a Jew, the blossoming friendship between Liesel and Max manages to show what stories and words can do, especially for Max who has to live in the family basement living in constant fear of being discovered by the Germans.

The struggles of all are evident, whether that is Hans and the lack of plan for Max and reluctantly signs up for the Nazi Party - which gives an 'Oom-Pah-Pah'-esque number in the local tavern in 'Late To The Party' or Max's own dilemma of his own destiny. The suffering that the Jews faced is often reminded as the piece gets darker and Jews are often marched off to face their fate. 

The role of Liesel is shared between 3 young performers, on the performance I attended it was Eirini Louskou who played the role with such effecting heart. The way she carries the exploration and growth whilst also being touching as she can't bring herself to tell Rosa that she loves her is superbly performed. Louskou sublimely interacts with all but it's the friendship between her and Rudy, another role shared by 3 performers and played by Oliver Gordon on the performance I saw. Gordon is a bundle of energy with a cheeky charm about him.

Director Lotte Wakeham's production grows into something quite charming as things develop whilst the design is magnificently realised. Good Teeth's staging effectively elevates the emotion and feeling embossed further by Nic Farman's tremendously atmospheric lighting and Dick Straker's video and projection. The use of moving panels that move across to allow for scene changes is a clever touch. The whole thing is rightly a bit dark but the lighting at times does remain hopeful, especially as Liesel looks to the stars for inspiration and for hope.

Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson's score compliments the piece well and is brilliantly performed by the cast and the 6 musicians. There are some great catchy numbers with 'Hello Stars' being a nice ear worm that I've had in my head ever since. 'Music Nonetheless' is gorgeously sung by Jack Lord and later reprised by Lord and Minar Anwar. Tom Jackson Greaves adds great fluid choreography which does elevate the ensemble numbers and scene changes. The lyrical movement is sublime and works well in the world of the show.

(Front) Eirini Louskou & Oliver Gordon as Liesel and Rudy with the cast of The Book Thief. Photo by Pamela Raith

Obioma Ugoala impresses as The Narrator, who also steps into a few smaller roles. Ugoala commands a strong central presence as death, delivering and driving the story well. Jack Lord gives an outstanding performance as Hans Hubermann, he is really touching to watch. Mina Anwar has a great time delivering lines like 'Jesus, Mary and Joseph' with great gusto and is great at bringing a little humour in to the piece. Daniel Krikler gives a well-rounded performance as Max, you instantly feel empathy for his journey and the way Krikler forms relationships with those around him. The scenes between Kriker's Max and Loukou's Liesel are very moving. There are some great supporting performances by Mark Dugdale as Alex Steiner, Wendy Somerville as Isla Hermann and Edwin Ray as Walter Kugler. 

The Book Thief will teach audiences young and old that words are the strongest weapons we have and to use words for kindness. An outstanding and touching production is magnificently imagined and performed. There will surely be a future life beyond this short Midlands try out.

The Book Thief plays at Curve in Leicester until Saturday 14th October. Visit for tickets and for further details.

Obioma Ugoala (centre) and the cast of The Book Thief. Photo by Pamela Raith

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