Reviews DublinNationalReviews Published 24 March 2016

Review: The Magic Bookshop at Pavilion Theatre

Pavilion Theatre ⋄ 20th March 2016

Chris McCormack reviews “a production that is part play, part travelling book repository.”

Chris McCormack
The Magic Bookshop at Pavilion Theatre, Dublin.

The Magic Bookshop at Pavilion Theatre, Dublin.

Unpacking his library in 1931, the art critic Walter Benjamin was having a hard time. The chaos of being surrounded by crates of uncategorised books would give anyone a headache. To complicate matters, book-collecting was ordinarily the kind of bourgeois exercise expected to be in a Marxist critic’s firing line.

Instead, Benjamin found himself bracing “a dam against the spring tide of memories”, reliving his past through the pages of his collection. Magically, books would appear to be a medium through which to live our lives.

That might explain the concern in a vibrant production by Monkeyshine – theatre warriors for young audiences – when two bookshop clerks desperately examine a tattered book for signs of repair. Stolen of sheets of pages, vandalised by crayon, the book is doomed to the dreaded shredder.

Peter and John (James Jobson and Nicholas Kavanagh) manage an arrival’s desk with book-lovers’ affection, both on and off the clock. During a tea break, the shredded remains of demolished books are used to build storytelling props such as a giant shoe, though its builder has to defend its modest size: “It’s a question of scale”.

That invites Jobson’s set, a charming kiosk, to transform into a puppet theatre. Gorgeous paper miniatures of fairytale scenery are rolled out. A winding beanstalk rises as a result of magic beans, and a paper princess becomes unnerved by a pea buried under her pristine four-poster bed. One paper house is made of hay, two others of sticks and bricks. A prince finds a beauty sleeping in an elegant conical castle. These are the stories great books are made of. Literally.

Seating the audience on the Pavilion Theatre stage, director Kareen Pennefather’s staging doesn’t just invite intimacy to see production values up close; it’s also crisp clear. Recognisable motifs and plot points are spelled out with crystal clarity without ever feeling instructive or, worse, condescending. This is to the testament of Kavanagh and Job’s well-measured and winsome performances.

This nicely crafted puppet show isn’t content with simply rehashing popular children’s stories, start to finish. Monkeyshine are more interested in highlighting patterns, making its young audience storytelling-savvy.

That would suggest an ulterior motive in a production that is part play, part travelling book repository. Audiences are encouraged to bring a book from their personal collection and exchange it for another title in the company’s stock.

Suspiciously, this might put more than books, but brilliant new storytellers, into circulation.

The Magic Bookshop is now touring across Ireland. Click here for details. 


Chris McCormack is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: The Magic Bookshop at Pavilion Theatre Show Info

Produced by Monkeyshine

Directed by Kareen Pennefather

Cast includes James Jobson, Nicholas Kavanagh



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