City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Bookbinder, Imaginate, Traverse Theatre, Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 02 June 2016

Show Details
Traverse Theatre
Trick of the LIght Theatre Company
Ralph McCubbin Howell (writer), Hannah Smith (director), Tane Upjohn Beatson (music), Hannah Smith (paper craft and design)
Ralph McCubbin Howell

As we are ushered in, Ralph McCubbin Howell (the eponymous and anonymous Bookbinder) appears asleep at a desk centre stage. Not for long, however. As the sound of the ‘new fangled’ phonograph fades, he begins his tale of craft and ingenuity, faithfulness and deceit.

Howell’s performance is an impressive one, and his story-telling skills remain on full display throughout. Almost literally stumbling into the craft of bookbinding, his central character takes us (in an almost literal sense) on a journey to the edge of the world.

The craft of the bookbinder may seem, in these days of kindles, tablets and the Internet to be almost on the verge of extinction, but like rare breeds and threatened species, it survives in spite of the odds and here and there continues to flourish.

So references to signatures (not the written kind), Coptic and ‘Secret Belgian’ (don’t ask) stitching peppered Howell’s tale, along with ‘sleeping beneath the guillotine’ as a minor running joke. Whether the youngest members in the audience of the performance seen fully appreciated these is open to question. ‘The Bookbinder’ probably works best for an audience of say, eleven and up, as despite some truly wonderful paper engineering in the shape of a book whose pop-up pages become a stage set in themselves, there is little else in Howell’s show that is visually exciting for a younger audience. On the day seen, one or two looked distinctly bored.

However, for the rest, this was a more than ample aural and in some respects visual feast. There is a loving creativity at work here, which coupled with a storyline that takes us out of the bookbindery into a word of lost princesses and noble quests across the vast landscapes created by Howell’s imagination.

Fortunately, Imaginate is not the only opportunity to see ‘The Bookbinder’, which will return as part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Whether for adults or adolescents, ‘The Bookbinder’ offers an altogether excellent hour in the theatre.