Melbourne, Melbourne Fringe Festival 2014

The Bookbinder, MFF 2014

1 Comment 25 September 2014

The audience walk into a small dark room to find a man seemingly asleep, his head resting on a desk piled high with books. A gramophone plays classical music in the background and the room is dimly lit with only the glow of a lamp.

Our presence wakes the man – a bookbinder- and this is where the story begins.

The Bookbinder is a one-man show created and performed by Ralph McCubbin Howell from Trick of Light Theatre. He uses pop up books, paper people, shadow puppets and ink to draw the audience into a dark fairytale.

The story follows a bookbinders apprentice – who fixes tattered books and gives them new life – as he decides to cut a few corners in his work. One night, he damages a book and tries to hide what he’s done, but unfortunately the book belongs to an old witch. We then witness how the apprentice deals with the consequences of his heinous actions against literature.

It’s a magical, fantasy story in the vein of something that parents would read to their children before bed. The story is brought to life on stage through simple but inventive storytelling techniques.

Given that McCubbin Howell is the only performer, and basically spends the whole show sitting at a desk, it’s surprising just how engaging he actually is. He has mastered the art of whimsical storytelling, and because of this the imagination and creativity of the show shines through.

McCubbin Howell plays all the different characters himself by using different accents, from the wise old bookbinder to the apprentice’s father, with his exaggerated voices bring a lot of humour to each and every one of them. While moving around paper people and putting on different voices might seem like something you only did as a child playing with dolls and action figures, it’s the simplicity of this that hooks you.

Trick of Light Theatre is a fitting name for this theatre group as their use of lighting is a major highlight. A swivel lamp attached to the desk is used to tell the story and set an intimate mood. At one point he even moves the light along the roof for an ominous atmosphere and the next he creates shadow eagles with his hands. The music also compliments the story as it builds suspense and makes it more dramatic.

This storybook-like production technique is something that would fascinate young kids who find adventure through the pages of a book. The show can easily be dismissed as merely for kids, but I’d argue the opposite. Its youth like innocence is alluring because it gets to the heart of what it means to tell a good story, which is something that resonates with people of all ages – especially book lovers.

Like all good stories, there is a moral in the end, a life lesson that the bookbinder’s apprentice has learnt through his adventure. The moral that the audience can find through this show is that storytelling is powerful because it broadens your imagination. The show captures that feeling you get after reading a really good story and has effortlessly turned that personal experience into something that can be shared.

The Bookbinder is playing at Son of Loft in the Lithuanian Club, September 19 – October 4.

Click here for more information and to purchase tickets to the show.



  1. The Bookbinder- Fringe 2014 | Jessica Dickers - October 16, 2014

    […] Originally published on Buzzcuts […]

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