Review: The Bookbinder

SPELLBINDING: The bookbinder working diligently at his craft in the play of the same name.
SPELLBINDING: The bookbinder working diligently at his craft in the play of the same name.

The Bookbinder by Ralph McCubbin Howell, directed by Hannah Smith

Arty Bees Bookshop, until March 1

Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson

In a small room in Arty Bees bookshop not surprisingly overflowing with books, and seating 15 people only, is a bearded bookbinder working diligently at his craft. Behind him is a phonograph with a large metal horn playing some music. The bookbinder welcomes us into his world and starts to tell a story.


His voice has a slight but varying accent and he appears to be from Mitteleuropa, though he occasionally uses words such as bush for forest and tussock for grass. The story he tells is about a boy he takes on as an apprentice. And, like most storybook apprentices, the boy doesn't heed his master's advice when repairing a precious book for an old woman. He ignores the advice that one should bind books, not read them.

Strange things happen to him. He meets a mysterious young woman, he travels to a strange city and sails a boat on a roaring ocean, he is carried off by angry eagles and he has to repair a gap in the world. There is, of course, a moral to it all.

Ralph McCubbin Howell (who plays the storyteller) and Hannah Smith have come up with an absorbing and imaginative 45-minute piece of storytelling theatre. They have been assisted by Nick Zwart (set) Jen Curry (sound) and Tane Upjohn Beatson (music), whose work combines effortlessly to assist in the storytelling.

But it is the numerous ingenious ways they use to tell their fantastical story that grips and holds the attention. A jug of water, a bottle of black ink, shadow play, books, sound effects, an anglepoise lamp and, best of all, pop-up paper art all play their part in this small gem of theatre.


The Dominion Post