Writer: Cornelia Funke
Adaptor: Stephen Sharkey &Walter Meierjohann
Director: Walter Meierjohann
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Inkheart is a new theatre show – ideal for Christmas but not a ‘Christmas’ show – based on the best-selling young adult novel of the same name by Cornelia Funke and adapted for the stage by Stephen Sharkey and Walter Meierjohann. The first family show at Manchester’s still-new HOME, Inkheart revives a long-standing tradition from HOME’s theatrical precursor the much-loved Library Theatre, which presented a series of innovative and slightly quirky Christmas shows that offered an alternative to the traditional pantomime.
Inkheart is the story of 12-year-old, book-loving Meggie, who discovers her father has an amazing talent to bring characters out of their books and must try to stop a freed villain from destroying them all, with the help of her father, her aunt, and a storybook’s hero.
The staging is strikingly creative. The set comprises a massive pile of books, which cleverly – and with some imaginative redressing and unexpected movement – represents a series of rooms, landscapes, castles… The set design also makes use of trap doors and a full-height swoop of curtains that encircle the stage and double as projection screens for stars, rain, bookshelves, fire and more. Stéphane Laimé’s set designs impressively manage to evoke a sense of magic and space that is rather wonderful – and all centred on the idea of reading and imagination.
Funke’s story has been well-adapted for this two-hour show. The narrative has considerable momentum and yet characters are sufficiently vividly drawn to make a genuine connection with the audience, whether heroes or baddies. The text manages to be reassuringly familiar and yet peppered with modern references that has audience members of all ages audibly delighted.
Katherine Carlton does a remarkable job of being a convincing and spiky Meggie. Rachel Atkins boldly makes eccentric Aunt Elinor hilariously larger than life and completely adorable. Andrew Sheridan’s Dustfinger – a character from a book trapped in the ‘real world’ – brings a dark intensity to the action that helps keep the show from veering towards the saccharine, as do the two excellent comedic baddies Basta (Darryl Clark) and Flatnose (Griffin Stevens), who bring an element of dark pantomime, humour and oddly satisfying violence. The show is anchored on the dark side by sinister villain Capricorn, lightly played by Will Irvine and on the good by Paul McEwan as Meggie’s well-meaning but slightly ineffectual father Mortimer. Engaging narration is provided by Kelly Hotten.
Ultimately, Inkheart is an ambitious and hugely entertaining show full of laughs, with enough darkness and clever stagecraft to make it an appealing and modern alternative to pantomime or other more seemingly ‘Christmassy’ family shows. This one is good for the adults too.
Runs until 9 January 2016 | Image