For it’s first ever Christmas show HOME Manchester has chosen Inkheart which is a huge cultural phenomenon in its native Germany. Cornelia Funke’s million selling novel trilogy has seen her dubbed the German JK Rowling. The story is all to do with how certain people have a dangerous skill. This means that when these “ silvertongues “ read a story aloud some of the characters within it can escape from the book into the real world and have their own existence and adventures. This is disturbing because for every good character which escapes there is also the risk of a bad character doing so too but also because it can lead to people from the real world in turn being captured into the book.
This stage production is magical and a worthy successor to the cherished Library Theatre Christmas shows. The adventures of the child Meggie and her bookbinder Father Mortimer known as Mo involve a range of distinctive characters who come to life from the readings already described. There is the fire performing and somewhat sinister Dustfinger, the comedy baddies Basta and Flatnose and the scary gangster chief Capricorn. There are also warm hearted characters such as Elinor who is Meggie’s aunt, Farid who teams up with a reluctant Dustfinger, the narrator and the writer Fenoglio.
All of these characters are well drawn in this adaptation. The settings are very clever with a huge mound of books in the centre of the stage being used in all manner of inventive ways along with vivid projections on the drapes effective use of the levels of the playing area and auditorium and atmospheric lighting. While some of the ideas may be a bit too complex for the youngest children it is heartwarming to see the power and importance of books and reading given such theatrical weight. Some of the violence is quite comedic such as the wonderful Basta / Flatnose partnership which as performed by Darryl Clark and Griffin Stevens has elements of Stan and Ollie as clear inspiration. Some of the aggression is very dark as in the disturbing book burning sequences but all well within the parameters of a Christmas show for the whole family.
The cast work very tightly as an ensemble but standouts for me are Rachel Atkins as Elinor who has the right mix of no nonsense quirky aunt and warm caring nature which really connects with the audience, Katherine Carlton as Meggie who has the spirit of a young intelligent and quite feisty 12 year old child and is the audience’s main way into the story and Kelly Hotten as the narrator. Kelly has the best diction on the stage radio mics notwithstanding. While some of the narration risks being superfluous there is no denying the great pleasure in being told a story by such an engaging performer. There feels as much for the adults as the children in this rendition with broad humour along the way. Though perhaps too short the fire performance is also quite special so well done to Andrew Sheridan for that. The piece is also a moving exploration of loss as we discover that Meggie’s Mum has disappeared into the book before the show has even started.
The pacing is good and the 2 hour run time including interval also feels right with an earlier start quite appropriate given the family demographic. It’s a lovely thought that this show may be the first experience of theatre for many of the younger members of the audience. Director Walter Meierjohann should feel justifiably proud of this first HOME Christmas production which hits all the right notes and sends adults and children out into the cold Manchester night warmed up about the next story into which they can escape.
On Sunday 13th December 2015 on the Sunday Forum you can hear Katherine Carlton who plays Meggie tell me all about what it’s like to portray a young child who is a voracious reader and to work over the festive season.
There is more from the production in the final Sunday Forum for 2015 when I chat with Andrew Sheridan and Rachel Atkins.
Inkheart at HOME is adapted by Stephen Sharkey from the novel by Cornelia Funke and directed and co adapted by HOME Artistic Director for Theatre: Walter Meier johann. The photo shows Paul McEwan as Mo, Andrew Sheridan as Dustfinger, Katharine Carlton as Meggie, Rachel Atkins as Elinor and Kelly Hotten as The Narrator in Inkheart. Photo by Graeme Cooper.http://nw.gaydio.co.uk/radioplayer/od/229/
The production runs until 9th January.
You can hear all interviews with the cast on the Gaydio radio player in the listen on demand section where the audio for The Sunday Forum is archived.