As a child I spent many a late night under the covers with a torch aimed at my bedtime read. Invariably, I'd fall asleep after a couple of paragraphs, only to find the morning after that my torch had been switched off, the book had been closed and both had been placed neatly by my bedside. I imagine that my sleeping hours were filled with the most fabulous, fantastical dreams, fuelled by the words I d devoured.
So I can fully understand the way Kevin (Charlie Hayes), the central character in Alan Ayckbourn's new play for all the family, The Boy Who Fell Into a Book, feels as he finds himself stuck in the latest Rockfist Slim (Richard Derrington) novel attempting to foil Monique's (Nicola Sloane) murderous advances. The only way out for Kevin and his hard-boiled (though totally inept) hero is to travel through all the books on Kevin's shelf.
The journey through Chess For Beginners, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Kidnapped, Scary Ghost Stories and The Wooblies' Picnic allows Ayckbourn, set designer Roger Glossop and Mick Hughes (lighting) the opportunity to flex their theatrical muscle and creativity to stage a wholly improbable production. Naturally, if the piece was being performed behind a proscenium arch, this would mean some flamboyant scenery and plenty of pyrotechnics. But here we are in the round, and while there are still beds, tables, trees and talent flying in and out of traps and flies and Christine Wall's costume designs are impressive, the most important aspect of the production's design is a gap - a gap left for the audience's imagination. As we fill in the details of what may be lurking in the dark, around corners or atop of Uncle Ebenezer's staircase, it fast becomes apparent that this play itself works just like a book.
The most entertaining and memorable moment for children is Ayckbourn's comic invention The Wooblies, an ironic side-swipe at the questionable educational and artistic merits of The Telletubbies if ever I saw one. The shouts of 'woobly woo', our brightly coloured, padded suit, gaping grin-wearing friend's catchphrase, will be heard around Scarborough and beyond for some time. May I suggest the theatre shop start selling some related merchandise?
The Boy Who Fell Into a Book apparently heralds the start of the National Year of Reading. Ayckbourn not only succeeds in promoting the book but also, once again, demonstrates how good theatre can be. I'm happy to announce that this theatre-goer has fallen into an Ayckbourn play. It's a nice place to be.