Originally a novel by Emma Donoghue that swept up the award nominations last year after being made into a film, Room is now a play. Adapted by the writer for the stage, it stays true to the original story of a young woman abducted at 19 and imprisoned as a sex slave. After two years in captivity she gives birth to her son Jack. Five years later as they celebrate his fifth birthday, all Jack has ever known is the inside of the shed. To ensure he copes, Ma’s taught him that the only things that are real are what’s inside the room. Everything outside isn’t real, and the pictures on their telly exist only in the small box. But Ma’s had enough and wants Jack to help them escape now that he’s big enough.
Meggie (Katherine Carlton) and her bookbinder father Mo (Paul McEwan) love books. They also share a fantastical gift that’s causing them to be chased all over the world (or Europe, at least) by fictional characters that aren’t very nice at all. Cornelia Funke’s young adult novel Inkheart is adapted for the stage by director Walter Meierjohann in a high-spirited production with inventive staging. The mountain of books and projections that make the set effectively reinforce the importance of the stories that drive the action. The plot is rushed and over-complicated though, particularly for a family show. Books generally have way more content than will fit into a reasonable timeframe, and Inkheart feels like Meierjohann tries to fit the entire novel into two hours on stage.
This is a great play for villains: Will Irvine is Capricorn, a ruthless, Dr Evil-like pursuer who needs Mo to help him bring his assassin, The Shadow, into this world. His stooges Basta (Darryl Clark) and Flatnose (Griffin Stevens) provide excellent comic relief with a dash of audience interaction. Rachel Atkins is the intimidating, book collecting Great Aunt Elinor and the nonspeaking figure draped in black, Mortola. They all provide an excellent foil to the protagonists, even though Meggie is feisty and temperamental (a fantastic role model for young girls struggling to assert themselves). Mo is gentle and kind, with a warm heart and an inner secret – a complex, developed character that adults can relate to.
The pace in the first act ticks along nicely but after the interval, there seem to be leaps in time and space caused by huge chunks cut from the original novel. There are several twists and reveals, making the second act crowded with information. The character development from the first act is neglected in favour of chucking plot points at us, one after the other. Though, this is a story about a long love affair with books and their power, as well as the power we have to write the stories of our own lives. It’s an adventure, a love story and a coming of age tale with great performances, and a flawed, unexpected narrative. Much like our own lives.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.