Note: This review is from the 2016 Fringe

The Bookbinder is a dark fairy tale from New Zealand based company Trick of The Light Theatre. The story is a sinister mystery that is aimed at older children and follows the fantasy journey of a young apprentice bookbinder. He encounters monsters, tragedy and triumph in this fanciful voyage that combines illustration, shadow puppetry, innovative props and expert storytelling.

The Bookbinder is a one man performance from Ralph McCubbin Howell. He embodies a variety of characters and creatures throughout show and infuses enthusiasm and vigour into each interesting being we meet. The performer takes the audience on a long and exciting adventure and delivers the narrative with style and whimsy. The story really begins to take shape when McCubbin Howell introduces a pop up book to the performance. Here we learn more about the plight of the bookbinding apprentice, where the illustrations give life to the world he inhabits. The drawings burst from the page and express the delightful location and setting.

The action happens while the narrator stands behind a table. Here he manipulates objects, puppets and a table light to give a dramatic edge to the story. As the performance is narration heavy, language and vocal delivery are both key to holding the attention of the audience. The fantasy element of the story lends itself more to visual storytelling as oppose to oral. Even though the story is expertly delivered, greater use of props and puppetry would have benefited the adventure elements of The Bookbinder and would delivered a more satisfying story. The occasions where shadow puppetry is introduced are magical. To the side of the stage an unassuming lamp stands. This is eventually employed to deliver the exciting visuals that are much needed and very much missed when they leave the performance.

The Bookbinder is an excellent family storytelling performance that verges on darkness and thankfully never turns entirely bleak. It will appeal to adults and also older children who don’t mind a bit of horror and excitement in their lives.