Cornelia Funke’s 2003 novel Inkheart has fast become something of a modern children’s classic.
In essence it’s a story all about stories and, in that respect, it’s perfect festive fare. So it makes absolute sense that this book has been chosen for a new adaptation as HOME’s first family Christmas show in Manchester. It’s a production full of good intentions, and certainly no failure. But in the final analysis, sadly, it doesn’t quite come off as gloriously as it should.
Our heroes are young book-lover Meggie and her dad Mo. One night, the appearance of a lurker outside their home throws open all sorts of questions, every one of which leads right back to those omnipresent books. In answering them, Meggie and Mo will be taken all around the world, and not always to places they’d want to go.
Directed by HOME’s own artistic director of theatre Walter Meierjohann, who has co-adapted the novel with Stephen Sharkey, the production centres on one main staging conceit (with variations): a hill built out of books, which sums up the story to a tee. With a cast of ten, it seeks to conjure up Funke‘s remarkable, wide-ranging yarn. A keen sense of ambition is a fine thing, and it’s possible to work wonders with a clever cast and an open-minded audience. But ultimately this is probably over-ambitious.
The original novel is knocking on for 600 eventful pages, and that’s just the start of the trilogy. Over the space of a couple of hours, this Manchester telling starts to feel a bit threadbare. Plot developments come and go at a rate of knots without ever making much of an impact, and character development is stretched thin. Events which should feel hugely dramatic come across instead as sedate, and the all-important story is swamped by showy moments where there ought be real power and substance.
It’s not all bad by any means. It’s a lively show and the cast are giving it some welly. Katherine Carlton makes for a feisty Meggie, Andrew Sheridan breathes life into the shady Dustfinger, and Kern Falconer is likeably batty as the master creator Fenoglia. There’s inventive use of projected backdrops, and the second half in particular offers a welcome sense of looseness and interaction. The big denouement itself, though, just feels thrown away.
There are lashings of humour and adventure on show here, and it generates enough excitement to draw the audience in for the duration. But it’s never quite compelling enough to conjure true magic, or to become the wondrous story that it’s trying to be. Ultimately, it’s breathless rather than breathtaking.
Photos by Graeme Cooper
Where: HOME, Manchester
When: until January 9, 2015
More info: http://homemcr.org/production/inkheart/