Neil Armfield recalls his experience working on The Book of Everything at Belvoir in 2011 and the effect it had on the audience.
Last January I was in the Upstairs Theatre at Belvoir watching Geoffrey Rush and Yael Stone in a performance of The Diary of a Madman, my final production as Artistic Director. After the curtain call, as the audience was leaving, a large, older gentleman came up to me and said, ‘I want to thank you’. I said, ‘Well, thank you very much, but it’s Geoffrey’s performance that –’. ‘No,’ he interrupted, ‘Of course I loved the show today, but I want to thank you for The Book of Everything.’ And there was an odd silence, like he wanted to go on. But instead he began weeping. This big man, standing in front of me, crying. I helped him to a seat, and sat on the stair next to him. After he’d collected himself a little, he said, ‘I had five children. I thought I knew how to bring them up. I thought I needed to be hard to make them strong. But I only made them fear me. One by one as they grew older they rejected me. After I saw that play I understood how I had failed them. I’ve since called each of them up. And with some, we’ve been able to start to talk again.’
As we discovered at Belvoir with our production of The Small Poppies a decade ago, the imagination of a young child is a wonderful place from which to explore the world – the great questions of both life and of civilisation can be reframed and posed anew. Set in a community in the decade that followed the shattering horror of World War II, Guus Kuijer’s wonderful story gives us a chance to remake our world, to start again. This production really began over a year ago, when we had a workshop for a week on an early draft of Richard’s adaptation of the book. It was a very rewarding time and Richard has, at every moment of the process of the creation of this work of theatre, been a great colleague. As has everyone actually – it has been a most gratifying experience.
I want to say in particular that it has been lovely to work again with Kim Carpenter. In the almost thirty years since we last worked together in the Upstairs Theatre, Kim has tirelessly pursued his life’s great work, Theatre of Image, giving Australia and its children so many magical experiences.
The Book of Everything has been a very happy collaboration between our two companies. And is it any wonder, with the inspiration of the inquisitive, open-hearted, subversive playfulness of our little hero, Thomas Klopper, before us?
- Neil Armfield (2011)
Belvoir’s acclaimed production of The Book of Everything is playing at Southbank Theatre until 22 December 2013. The production is recommended for ages 9+.
Image: Claire Jones, Peter Carroll, Matthew Whittet and Alison Bell in rehearsals at Belvoir in 2009.