The Book of Everything

Actor and writer Matthew Whittet is once again appearing as nine-year-old Thomas in the Neil Armfield-directed The Book of Everything, currently having its Melbourne Theatre Company premiere at The Sumner, Southbank Theatre.

The play, adapted by Richard Tulloch from the 2004 book by Dutch children’s writer Guss Kuijer, has already toured most of this country as well as being mounted overseas. It has also picked up awards along the way and Whittet, whose own work, Big Bad Wolf, will be running in Melbourne for MTC in January, is delighted that The Book of Everything is now enjoying another run.

The Book of Everything tells the story of Thomas, who see things no-one else can, who lives in Amsterdam with parents and his sister, Margot. They are not, however, a harmonious family as their father, a devoutly religious man, repeatedly hits their mother and punishes Thomas by beating him with a wooden spoon. Thomas writes down all these incidents in his book.

“It’s such a beautiful show to do,” Whittet enthuses, “so it’s always good to return to it. And the last time we did it was in New York, so the Melbourne season is a bit like a homecoming. And the whole New York experience was amazing as it was quite otherworldly – so different to doing a show back home in Australia.”

Whittet, who says performing as young Thomas is now like, “putting on a comfortable pair of socks”, says the show has changed little although the Melbourne season features two new cast members.

“It’s very much the same show although the great thing about working with the director, Neil Armfield, is that he pretty much comes along to every performance and is constantly making notes,” he laughs. “He never stops doing that, even on the final night, so you always feel that Neil is constantly searching for new ways to improve it. He keeps scratching away at it and suggesting different ways to say a particular line. So that keeps everyone on their toes but also keeps The Book of Everything very fresh.

“There is a tendency when you have done a show four or five times in different theatres to cheat a little and just coast along, but Neil’s directive notes each night really keep it fresh and exciting.”

Whittet is also thrilled that his own work, Big Bad Wolf, will receive another airing when MTC stage it in January.

“Both The Book of Everything and Big Bad Wolf are essentially for a young audience so it’s great that Melbourne Theatre Company were keen to stage them,” he says of the company. “MTC is a company that has a strong adult subscriber base but hasn’t staged shows that are aimed more for kids in quite a while.

Big Bad Wolf did beautifully well during its two-week run in Adelaide earlier this year, so it’s good it’s getting another one,” Whittet enthuses.

Big Bad Wolf is a production by Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre, a company that enjoys ongoing success for its extensive repertoire here and overseas. Whittet says that the company’s artistic director, Rose Meyers, had approached him some time ago about writing for Windmill.

“It all came from an idea by Kaye Weeks who was working in marketing at Windmill at the time,” he reveals. “She’d come up with an idea about how the big bad wolf might just be just a very misunderstood creature. As I work quite a bit with Rose – she knows I have a seven-year-old son – it was a particularly happy experience writing a play for under-nines.

Big Bad Wolf has been an unexpectedly beautiful project to work on and it’s going to work wonderfully well in such an intimate setting as The Lawler,” he concludes.


The Book of Everything shows at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until December 22.

Big Bad Wolf shows at Southbank Theatre, The Lawler, from January 10 until January 25.

1. Alison Bell (Margot), Matthew Whittet (Thomas), Peter Carroll (Father), Claire Jones (Mother)
2. Matthew Whittet (Thomas)
Credit – Heidrun Lohr


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