The Boy Who Fell Into A Book: World Premiere Reviews

This page contains a selection of reviews from the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's play The Boy Who Fell Into A Book at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 1998. All reviews are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author.

The Boy Who Fell Into A Book (by David Jeffels)
"Alan Ayckbourn's latest work is splendidly designed for children, but has just as much to commend it to adult audiences.
By coincidence it features several children's books in what is National Reading Year for Children and by bringing alive the characters of
Chess for Beginners, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Kidnapped, Scary Ghost Stories and The Wooblies Picnic, he has created an excellent vehicle with a two-pronged aim - to encourage youngsters to read and to experience live theatre.
Excellent sound, lighting and engineering effects add considerably to the success of this highly entertaining production at the Stephen Joseph, with some superb performances, notably Julian Forsyth, whose five roles range from Daddy Woobly to Rumpelstiltskin.
Richard Derrington shines as the American
Columbo-style private detective Rockfist Slim, who with Charlie Hayes as bookworm Kevin, is on stage for nearly all the production. His pace and convincing performance delights the young audience, while Hayes is skilled in his lead role despite his young age, as he journeys from his bedroom to meet the characters in his stories.* SJT veteran Robert Austin is, as always, polished in his chain of roles, with his authoritative command as the Headless Monk, the narrator, the Bishop, Wolf and Blunt.
Nicola Sloane, as the 'evil' Monique, gives the role a splendid touch of pantomime, while in sharp contrast she scores highly as Mummy Wobbly.
Ayckbourn's gift in quickly establishing his characters in such convincing style is certainly found in this play, which he has also brilliantly directed. While props are few, its effects are magic. Dorothy Atkinson completes the highly-talented cast, playing Little Red Riding Hood, Baby Woobly, Pawn, Queen and Jennet in a play which could become a Christmas classic.
Roger Glossop is responsible for the set design and Christine Wall for the outstanding costumes, while the lighting is in the capable hands of Mick Hughes. Musical direction is by John Pattison and Simon Cryer is at the keyboard for this fast-moving colourful entertainment."
(The Stage, 10 December 1998)

* The actress Charlie Hayes is actually female not male, as stated in The Stage's review

The Boy Who Fell Into A Book (by Dave Windass)
"As a child I spent many a late night under the covers with a torch aimed at my bedtime read. Invariably, I'd fall asleep after a couple of paragraphs, only to find the morning after that my torch had been switched off, the book had been closed and both had been placed neatly by my bedside. I imagine that my sleeping hours were filled with the most fabulous, fantastical dreams, fuelled by the words I'd devoured.
So I can fully understand the way Kevin (Charlie Hayes), the central character in Alan Ayckbourn's new play for all the family,
The Boy Who Fell Into a Book, feels as he finds himself stuck in the latest Rockfist Slim (Richard Derrington) novel attempting to foil Monique's (Nicola Sloane) murderous advances. The only way out for Kevin and his hard-boiled (though totally inept) hero is to travel through all the books on Kevin's shelf.
The journey through
Chess For Beginners, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Kidnapped, Scary Ghost Stories and The Wooblies' Picnic allows Ayckbourn, set designer Roger Glossop and Mick Hughes (lighting) the opportunity to flex their theatrical muscle and creativity to stage a wholly improbable production. Naturally, if the piece was being performed behind a proscenium arch, this would mean some flamboyant scenery and plenty of pyrotechnics. But here we are in the round, and while there are still beds, tables, trees and talent flying in and out of traps and flies and Christine Wall's costume designs are impressive, the most important aspect of the production's design is a gap - a gap left for the audience's imagination. As we fill in the details of what may be lurking in the dark, around corners or atop of Uncle Ebenezer's staircase, it fast becomes apparent that this play itself works just like a book.
The most entertaining and memorable moment for children is Ayckbourn's comic invention The Wooblies, an ironic side-swipe at the questionable educational and artistic merits of The Teletubbies if ever I saw one. The shouts of 'woobly woo', our brightly coloured, padded suit, gaping grin-wearing friend's catchphrase, will be heard around Scarborough and beyond for some time. May I suggest the theatre shop start selling some related merchandise?
The Boy Who Fell Into a Book apparently heralds the start of the National Year of Reading. Ayckbourn not only succeeds in promoting the book but also, once again, demonstrates how good theatre can be. I'm happy to announce that this theatre-goer has fallen into an Ayckbourn play. It's a nice place to be."
(What's On Stage, 7 December 1998)

The Boy Who Fell Into A Book (by Charles Hutchinson)
"You can't beat a good book, as Alan Ayckbourn's new stage adventure for children so eloquently affirms.
To mark the National Year of Reading, Ayckbourn has written a fantasy show that may keep children away from their books for a couple of hours but should send them scurrying back to their shelves, enthused with the wonders of the printed word. Above all, he celebrates the power of the imagination, and literature's ability to take you to another time, another place, beyond the bedroom walls.
Young Kevin (Charlie Hayes), with his bookish specs, loves reading past lights-out time, especially when engrossed in the new adventure of Rockfist Slim, his favourite detective. Late one night, he slips into sleep at a key moment, only to wake up and find himself swept up in the maelstrom of the gum-chewing gumshoe's latest investigation, Rockfist Slim and The Green Shark.
The precocious kid and the veteran sleuth (Richard Derrington) must somehow return Kevin to his bed to escape the clutches of the pursuing French villain Monique (a slinky Nicola Sloane). Their route, or so they discover on the hoof, is to work their way through the other books on his shelf: a case of friction with fiction.
Alice In Wonderland, it is a journey into the unknown, an adventure that will bring them startled face to face with a cast of characters, all performing to the last letter of their own book and all played by Sloane, Dorothy Atkinson, Robert Austin and Julian Forsyth.
On a box-of-tricks set design by Mick Glossop that combines hydraulic lifts and a mobile floor of rotating squares liable to produce a table or a pitfall at any unexpected moment, our intrepid duo must first encounter pieces from
Chess For Beginners. Next come Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf from Grimm's Fairy Tales; the miserly Ebenezer from Kidnapped, and after the interval ice creams, the jelly-eating Wooblies Picnic family - a distant cousin of the Teletubbies, it would seem - and the Headless Monk from Scary Ghost Stories.
Glossop's technical wizardry and Christine Wall's bright and bold costumes (especially for Red Gareth, the knight), together with Mick Hughes's spooky lighting and Simon Cryer's piano playing, wholly complement a typically inventive Ayckbourn children's show.
Derrington, an amalgam of Bogart trilby, Columbo raincoat and New York attitude, excels as Rockfist Slim, one of those dogged but accident-prone detectives in the Clouseau mould. Hayes is a sprightly, bright Kevin, invariably one step ahead of the slightly slow sleuth. Their partnership is full of comic interplay, another highlight of a play that is a delightful addition to the Ayckbourn shelf."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 8 December 1998)

Brought To Book By Sheer Ayckbourn Magic (by Lynda Murdin)
"I'm a grown man with bullet wounds." snarls Rockfist Slim, an American detective whose scruffy raincoat makes the garb worn by television's Lieutenant Columbo look like a new Burberry. His self description is given as an excuse as to why he shouldn't dance with the Wooblies - colourful blob-like individuals who like eating jelly. They have mistaken New York's finest private dick for Donny Dingle and insist he joins their ring-a-roses. "How am I going to face the Police Department again?" he growls.
This hilarious scene from Alan Ayckbourn's latest family show best illustrates how it has appeal for both adults and children. Grown-ups enjoy the reaction of the gum-chewing gumshoe. a splendid spoof down from his brown trilby to two-tone shoes.
Youngsters love the Wooblies, softies brilliantly juxtaposed with the hard-boiled private eye. But they, too, could be considered a gentle parody, poking fun at the Teletubby amoeba-type creatures designed for toddlers. The Wooblies are Ayckbourn's own creation - but for the purposes of the show which mixes actual fiction with fictitious fiction, a book called '
The Wooblies' Picnic' is on Kevin's bookshelf. Kevin is a serious young bookworm (he disowns 'The Wooblies' Picnic' which belongs to his baby sister) who dozes off while reading another of Ayckbourn's inventions, 'Rockfist Slim and the Green Shark.'
Suddenly, Kevin is sucked into a swirling vortex. He then comes face to face with Slim. For some inexplicable reason perhaps so that Ayckbourn, who also directs, can ingeniously employ The Round's technology to create an escape chimney? Slim is trapped in a smelting oven. And there is less than 72 hours before the Green Shark aims to destroy the planet.
There is only one thing for it - Kevin, the brighter member of this unlikely partnership realises they must work their way through the titles on his bookshelf to reach '
Rockfist Slim and the Green Shark.' He can then discover how it ends and so foil the plot. Well, it seems feasible at the time. As I write this, however, I realise unresolved questions are raised by the combining of reality, apparent reality and fantasy. But, without going too deeply into the physics of parallel universes and all that, the fact is in anybody's reality The Boy Who Fell Into A Book is a wonderfully inventive piece of fiction.
Written to herald the National Year of Reading, it is aimed at all the family. So it is no criticism to suggest that - in the way that Stephen Sondheim's
Into The Woods is a fairy-story for adults - some aspects are somewhat too sophisticated for little children. I loved a scene where Kevin and Slim move strategically from square to square in Chess for Beginners. Played by other actors, the chess pieces only understand a cod-Shakespeare style of speech. While amusing for grown-ups, this seemed to make the youngest audience members restless - but the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood soon held them spellbound again. Unexpected trap-doors plus atmospheric lighting, music and sound effects all add to the excitement.
As for the actors - Richard Derrington deserves at least a new raincoat for maintaining his sardonic stance as Slim. And as Kevin, Charlie Hayes, although a young woman, depicts a very believable brain-box of a boy. Dorothy Atkinson, Robert Austin, Julian Forsyth and Nicola Sloane display the necessary versatility to play a wide variety of characters.
Often, given the nature of their costumes and headgear, they are anonymous - but there is no mistaking Sloane as the slinky archetypal villainess Monique, hot on the duo's trail.
If I tell you to get lost, don't take it amiss: get lost in this story about a boy lost in books."
(Yorkshire Post, 9 December 1998)

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.