It may surprise some to learn that Sir Alan Ayckbourn is not entirely new to musical theatre. You may remember he opened the Stephen Joseph Theatre with By Jeeves which he co-wrote with Andrew Lloyd-Webber, in
The current production at the SJT is a musical adaptation of The Boy Who Fell into a Book (1998). Sir Alan describes it as for the whole family: “It’s for anyone who secretly read under the covers and who has ever been captivated by a story in a book.”
The plot is a familiar one: a boy, Kevin, falls asleep reading a book ... and into the narrative. Or rather, narratives.
Progressing through different books allows a certain freedom to play with, and subvert, genres. Gothic horror is contrasted with the Telly Tubbies-type family the Wubblies, but the core is detective fiction with Rockfist Slim probably parodying Spillane’s Mike Hammer rather than Philip Marlow.
The musical team reunites the creators of the highly popular The Demon Headmaster: music by Cathy Shostak and Eric Angus with adaptation and lyrics by Paul James.
Nicholas Colicos is Rockfist Slim, the powerfully built detective who deploys a fine baritone voice.
Physically and vocally, he contrasts with the diminutive Evelyn Hoskins as Kevin. The alluring Katie Birtill as Monique is their nemesis. As the femme fatale, she certainly convinced me.
Other cast members played multiple parts. The pick of them was Natasha J. Barnes, whose tour de force singing as the White Queen threatened to stop the show. John Barr’s effete Red Bishop and
Steven Matthews’ eccentric Rumpelstiltskin delighted the younger members of the audience. Designer, Michael Holt, has served the actors well with his costumes. The chess scene is particularly evocative calling to mind Alice in Wonderland. This would not be an Alan Ayckbourn production without stunning effects: a chimney flies in, a well appears, Monique spectacularly disappears as her time out of a story is ended.
In an interview, lyricist and adaptor Paul James identified the key question as, “Is it fun?”
Oh yes, that it is.
The Boy Who Fell Into A Book runs at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until Sunday August 31.
REVIEW: by Mike Tilling