The year: 1940. The place: Nazi Germany. The world is holding its breath, and Death is busier than ever…
Adapting a well-loved novel for the stage is no small feat, but Jodi Picoult and Timothy Allen McDonald’s adaptation of Markus Zusak’s beloved novel “The Book Thief” managed to do so with grace, sensitivity, and an unwavering respect for the source material when we caught it at Leicester’s Curve. The novel, set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl who finds solace and escape through the act of reading. But how do you get hold of books during a time of unimaginable hardship and brutality? By stealing them of course.
By her brother’s graveside, 12-year-old Liesel steals a book abandoned in the snow – her first act of book thievery. Soon she is stealing from libraries, churches, and book burnings. But these are dangerous times for a girl with a curious mind. When her foster family hides a Jewish boxer in their cellar, Liesel learns that words are so much more than letters on a page – they hold power. As the Nazi regime wields words as weapons, Liesel, determined to fight back, picks up her pen and starts to write…
A dark and brooding stage seamlessly transitioned from Liesel’s foster family home to the dusty streets of Molching, to a cellar crammed with secrets and stories with lighting shifting from warm sepias to chilling colour, reflecting the ever-changing emotional landscape of the story.
A notable aspect of this production was its ability to balance the weight of the historical context with moments of warmth, humour, and hope. The charm of Liesel’s friendship with Rudy, her foster parents’ affection, and the camaraderie among the townsfolk were essential in giving the audience respite from the darkness of the times.
I must admit I was unsure how the story would work as a musical yet haunting melodies, sung in unexpected and discordant keys combined with evocative lyrics did more than accompany the narrative; it breathed life into it, adding a further layer of pathos to the story and captured the essence of Liesel’s journey and the characters around her.
I remember when reading the book, sobbing big, ugly, tears through its final chapters and those tears were just as free flowing with this stage version. It’s a tough task to try and leave audiences with a sense of hope but with its conclusion, audiences were reminded that for there to be death then there has to be life.
The Book Thief is at Curve until before touring across the UK. Find out more here.