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REVIEW: The Dictionary Of Lost Words

Review by Markus Hamence (Wednesday 27 September performance)

The State Theatre Company of South Australia has yet again not disappointed, in fact, it may well have delivered one of it’s finest offerings yet. The Dictionary Of Lost Words has opened in Adelaide and judging by the amount of sold-out shows before it even opened seems it’s brilliance is no secret.

Our very own South Australian novelist Pip Williams’ internationally bestselling book, comes to extraordinary life in this world premiere stage adaptation by South Australian playwright, Verity Laughton.

This is stunning and enthralling theatre. Be prepared however, a toilet stop is required before you take your seat as the show (including an interval) runs for a solid three hours. The time seems to flit by though and you suddenly find yourself in a standing ovation before you know it. But I am getting ahead of myself…

Lead Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Esme casts a beautiful spell upon us and she commences the show as a 4 (almost 5) year old and quickly evolves through some ages before entering adult-hood and this is where the show really takes off. Her skills draw us into the character and is instantly likeable. Tilda has her craft perfected as she curiously seeks and collects her ‘lost’ words. The ‘birth’ scene is particularly engaging and intriguingly played, as is the c*nt scene. This actor is a star.

The entire supporting array of actors are superb and well cast with most playing at least two roles. Angela Mahlatjie shines and commands the stage and treads the stage as Tilda and also Frederick and is a joy to watch. Rachel Burke, Ksenja Logos, Raj Labade, Anthony Yangoyan, Jonathon Oxlade, Chris Pitman & Brett Archer each are outstanding and all have their many moments to exhibit their well developed characters which all offer depth and connection within the story. The thrill watching their performances is magnetic.

Another star of the show is hands-down the set, designed by Jonathon Oxlade. The expansive shelving system that runs the entire width of the stage and is filled with books and objects of curiosity and is visually appealing. Equally running the across the many metres is a screen backdrop, which controlled by the actors, turns frequently giving us the information required to know where we are situated in the performance. It is very cleverly done. Both of these elements become one with the play and constantly demanding your attention at the correct time required.

A special nod and mention must also go to the costume department – the garments worn are of detailed and layered quality, each piece defining the era’s aesthetic.

This is a must see show (if you can get a ticket to one of the not sold-out shows), your drive home will ensure many thoughts and conversations are had. Bravo State Theatre Company of South Australia.

The Dictionary Of Lost Words plays at Dunstan Playhouse at Adelaide Festival Centre until 14 October 2023.


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