Pinch perfect

Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel about a German girl’s love affair with literature in Nazi Germany has been adapted into a stage musical, adding a new dimension to the beloved tale

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For some people, books are that common that they act as decoration on shelves, but in Nazi Germany Liesel had to resort to stealing to get her hands on one. Her story, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, decorates over 20 million shelves worldwide and has been watched by millions of others on the big screen. It reminds us of the power of words and the resilience of childhood.

This autumn, audiences can witness young Liesel’s tale again, but this time on stage as it has been adapted into a musical. Directed by Lotte Wakeham, the story is one of her all-time favourite books and, despite being set in the 1930s, she notes it is sadly relevant to current global issues.

“Stories about World War Two often have great resonance with audiences, but I think it will be particularly impactful now, as we’re witnessing another war in Europe, as well as the rise of fascism in lots of parts of the world,” says Wakeham.

Ultimately though, she says it’s “an uplifting story about the power of words and the importance of holding onto hope”, and the darker themes have been treated with sensitivity for young audiences, who Zusak’s book was originally marketed towards.

“We’ve thought a lot about how to be sensitive about the topics in the show. Two of the central characters, Liesel and her best friend Rudy, are children, so we see some of the horrors of war through their eyes. The novel is read widely in schools, and we’ve suggested that it will be suitable for children aged 11 and over.

“Having an intergenerational audience really excites me, and I’m fascinated by the conversations that will come out of it.”

Liesel’s journey with books is adored by millions of people, so it comes with added pressure to make it fresh but also faithful to the original. Wakeham has seen it as an honour.

“I definitely feel a responsibility to do justice to the original novel. I think doing a musical adaptation, rather than a play, is an absolute gift, as the music conveys so much emotion and adds another dimension to the storytelling. We have an amazing writing team on board – Jodi Picoult, Tim McDonald, Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel – and I fell in love with their adaptation from the first time I read it. It’s a huge novel, but they’ve really captured the spirit of Markus’s writing, in a totally theatrical way.

“I know audiences will love the show’s songs – Kate and Elyssa have written an original score which manages to be beautiful, haunting and totally memorable. The light and shade of the storytelling is really impressive, and absolutely captivating.”

An exciting element to watch out for is the use of puppetry in the show, design led by Samuel Wilde, which will be used to capture figments of a child’s mind.

“It’s a real joy to be working with Sam. I don’t want to give too much away, but paper and books play a big part in the show, and we wanted to find a way of using those materials to create some of the figures of Liesel’s imagination.”

The musical is set to be an “intimate” showing in the Octagon’s small auditorium, but Wakeham feels this will sweep the audience up in this beautiful story and give them an experience to remember.

The world premiere of The Book Thief musical will take place in the Octagon Theatre in Bolton, 17 Sept-15 Oct (

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