Oliver Jeffers’ award-winning picture book about a boy with an unusual appetite comes to life in this stage adaptation by Maryam Master.
Asher and I were invited to catch the play at the SOTA Drama Theatre on Friday afternoon. The three actors from ABA Productions performed to a full-house audience, which included babes-in-arms, preschoolers, lower primary school pupils and their parents.
We were all there to watch Henry eat his way through piles of tomes, and eat he did. Shredded, torn, blended and swallowed whole, the audience was left in stitches as Henry got up to his book-eating antics. Using sleight of hand and angling, the three actors made it look believable that books were really disappearing down Henry’s gut.
The first thing that struck me about the stage and the props was the sheer loyalty to the look and feel of Jeffers’ quirky aesthetics. The acclaimed Irish author likes to use paintings and mixed media in his illustrations, with those from The Incredible Book Eating Boy looking like they’ve been through a toaster oven. And you’ll see Henry’s poster bed, the dining table, the chalkboard drawing from Henry’s classroom and his “The Smartest Person On Earth” medal – all perfectly, and I must say, very cleverly replicated.
This is not to say that ABA Productions didn’t take a few liberties. A pet cat was added; Henry’s dad and sister became central characters; a purple boy-eating book regularly appeared in Henry’s nightmares – these helped to supplant the play with action. But I think it is a pity that the show wasn’t more interactive. At one point during a scene where a confused Henry could not solve a simple mathematical equation set by his teacher, a frustrated voice rang out from somewhere a few rows ahead of me: “Why don’t you ask the audience to solve it?”
He was ignored.
This was totally unlike what we had seen in Hairy Maclary and Friends, another ABA Production of a stage adaptation of Lynley Dodd’s well-loved picture book series. In that musical, the performers absolutely loved it when their young, fidgety and restless audience took their cues to dance, sing along, answer questions and clap their hands. The stage performance of The Incredible Book Eating Boy was, well, a bit artsy.
If you’re looking for a foot-stomping and hand-clapping kind of performance which your rambunctious preschooler will shout hip-hooray to, you may be a little disappointed. But if you and your kids are fans of Oliver Jeffers, and don’t mind being asked to behave as if they were in a library for the whole hour, then catch this production before it ends its run on Sunday, May 24.
Suitable for ages three to eight.
Showtimes: Saturday (May 23) 11AM and 2PM; Sunday (May 24) 11AM, 2PM and 4.30PM
Duration: 60mins (with no interval)
Venue: SOTA – Drama Theatre
Prices: $58, $48, $38 through SISTIC. Prices exclude SISTIC fee.
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