REVIEW: The Things That We Wouldn’t Otherwise Find, Leeds Library ✭✭✭✭✭

Jonathan Hall reviews The Things That We Wouldn’t Otherwise Find at Leeds Library.

The Things That We Wouldn't Otherwise Find review
David Judge (The Ghost of Libraries Past) and Sinead Parker (The Ghost of Libraries Present). Photo: Anthony Robling

The Things That We Wouldn’t Otherwise Find
Leeds Library (Leeds Playhouse Production)
5 Stars

The Best theatre is that which shines some kind of light on your own life leaving you to take away questions and reflections. ‘The things we wouldn’t otherwise find’, by Emma Adams, a piece written to celebrate 250 years of the Leeds Library does just that.

In the past 12 years use of libraries across the country has fallen by some 38%; in Bradford the library budget is planned to be cut by some £950,000 in the coming year. Many libraries have closed, the library vans that served our villages have gone and such ones as do survive are often paltry versions of the booked lined emporiums they once were. Put simply however you look at it, libraries are both on the decline and threatened as institutions.

Adams expertly taps into this vibe with a reflective story (complete with chapters) where the spirit of Library past and the Spirit of Library present are awaiting with some trepidation the arrival of The Future- a future which looks set to sweep away their beloved chambers of books; in these days of Kindle, of Amazon, of a digital society it’s a scenario that that seems all too plausible. In a series of zesty, thought provoking scenes Adams shows us actually why these rooms of books do matter- and will always matter as long as people can read and the written word is seen as something to celebrate and value. We meet the serial book thief confessing to her crimes…the would-be novelist who values the space and sanctuary the library affords… the pernickity restorer of books- all of whom find within the library walls so much more than just books; for each of them the library and its volumes becomes a springboard for ideas, hopes, ambitions, even love. And maybe, just maybe the libraries can face the oncoming future unafraid.

Sinead Porter and David Judge bring the panoply of characters to life with enthusiastic commitment, through the direction of Tess Seddon. But arguably the most powerful presence of the evening was that of the Leeds Library itself ( a place well worth a visit) where the play was staged in conjunction with Leeds Playhouse. The galleried chamber is a great place to stage theatre and of course for a play about libraries it was just perfect.

Sitting there, my eyes ranging across the myriad books spines- Palmerston, Hitler, Glaswegian art, the Bronte’s- I again felt that mix of anticipation and hope that my Saturday trips to the library once afforded- a feeling quickly followed by one of guilt when I realised it was some thirty years since I’d last paid a visit.

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