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The Incredible Book Eating Boy review at The MAC Belfast

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It began life as a storybook by Belfast artist and writer Oliver Jeffers. Anarchic, off-the-wall yet gently persuasive, his tale of a young boy who loves books is the perfect vehicle for illusionist/magician Paul Bosco McEneaney and music theatre writer Conor Mitchell. On the page, Henry’s soon-to-be insatiable appetite begins by accident. On the stage, however, accidents are to be avoided. Thus, schoolroom bullying is presented as the motivation for Henry’s gastronomic obsession. In a desperate attempt to compete with his smug, spiteful classmates, the troubled child – subversively played by Stuart Matthews – wolfs down the page of a book and becomes an instant expert.

In character from behind the piano keyboard, Mitchell marshalls the six-strong orchestra through a challenging score, cleverly punctuated by snatches of Beethoven, Gershwin and Chopin. Meanwhile, the story unfolds through a series of pointedly witty songs, the most memorable of which is a tango-inspired serenade to the world of books, brilliantly delivered by Colette Lennon’s librarian. There is huge potential in this exciting collaboration – maybe a little too much. McEneaney’s busy production currently feels a little unfocused, a play of two halves, in which Act II prompts an uncharacteristically catchy line-dancing number, as well as a nightmare scenario leading uncertainly to the final denouement.

Production Information

The MAC, Belfast, November 27-January 1

Author
Oliver Jeffers, Conor Mitchell (adaptation)
Directors
Paul Bosco McEneaney, Conor Mitchell
Producers
Cahoots NI, The MAC
Cast includes
Richard Mark, Alan Mehdizadeh, Stuart Matthews, Mary Frances Loughran, Colette Lennon
Running time
1hr 25mins
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