Currently, Daniel Krikler is in the cast of The Book Thief at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre, reprising his role of Max Vandenberg from the world premiere production last year in Bolton. The Book Thief is an adaptation of Markus Zusak’s book of the same name, and Daniel and the rest of the company will continue performing in Coventry until the 16th before heading to Leicester Curve on the 29th September to 14th October. Last year, Daniel performed in The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Guildford Shakespeare Company, and amongst his other projects, he has been part of Fighting Irish at Belgrade Theatre, The Normal Heart at the National Theatre and Present Laughter at The Old Vic. Daniel chatted to us about being in the cast of The Book Thief, reprising his role of Max Vandenberg at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre and Leicester Curve and what it’s like taking on the character.
You are currently playing Max Vandenberg in The Book Thief at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre before heading to Leicester Curve, what are you looking forward to for performing at both venues?
Coventry is my home city, so to bring this beautiful show home is beyond exciting. I’ve got lots of friends and family coming so that’ll be great, and there’s a whole group from Coventry’s Jewish community coming to watch, which will be a special evening. And The Curve is a theatre I’ve never played before but always wanted to, so that will be a treat too. If I’m honest, I’m buzzing to be playing Max at all. He’s such a great role and I’d happily play him in my back garden to an audience of none.
What was it like being part of the world premiere production in Bolton last year and how was it seeing the audience response to the musical?
Bolton was a very special experience for me. I love regional producing houses as it always feels like a real team effort, and for that bit of time you’re so immersed in the community. The creative team were very open and gave me lots of creative license so it really felt like collaboration, which is theatre at its best. I felt the show was timeless, relevant and classy, but you never know what an audience will make of it. The response we got was really overwhelming. People really connected with it.
How would you describe Max and can you tell us about the show?
The Book Thief is an epic story set in a small German town in early 1940s, at the height of the Second World War. The story really follows Liesel, a young girl who gets fostered by an unlikely couple. They end up hiding a Jewish boxer in their basement, and that’s the role I play, Max Vandenberg.
Max has lost his whole world – his friends, his family. He’s completely alone, yet he has this amazing playfulness and creativity. I suppose the little moments of joy are the things you live for when life is as hard as his.
What is Max like to play and how has it been reprising your role and getting back into character?
As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of Max’s. What Jewish boy hasn’t dreamt of kicking Hitler’s arse? And now I get to do it every night in Max’s fantasy boxing match.
It can be tough too, I guess, because he’s going through an incredibly hard time, and sometimes that gets a bit overwhelming, especially as I had a lot of family killed in the holocaust. Sometimes it does feel too close, but it’s more important than ever to tell these stories.
Coming back to the role has been so much fun. It’s another chance to reflect and say “ok, we did this last time, so how can we build on it?”.
Had you read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief before booking the role and how did you prepare for playing Max?
Yes, I read the book as a teenager, and was really blown away and moved. The story is complex and unpredictable, but equally amazing is how it’s told. I don’t want to spoil anything so you’ll have to read it to find out.
I did quite a lot of reading, specifically about Jewish people who went into hiding and what that experience was like. I also went back over some of the poems and letters my great grandmother gave to my nan before she was taken away. I read Mein Kampf too, because that book comes up a lot in our show. That was a strange experience, reading all this odious nonsense that relates to me and my family. Practically, I kept up some boxing training that I started when I did a play at the Belgrade last year. That was handy.
Why would you recommend booking tickets to see The Book Thief at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre or Leicester Curve and who do you think will enjoy the show?
It’s a really special, one-of a-kind show, full of joy, love, humour, and heartache. You’ll laugh and smile, then probably shed a tear or two. I’ve rarely known a team to care so much, and work so relentlessly to make something the best it can be.
One of my favourite things about it is that it’s designed for young adults and families to be able to watch too. It’s so important that darker subject matters are available for younger audiences.
In 2022, you played Caliban in The Tempest and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Guildford Shakespeare Company, what were the shows like to perform in?
The Tempest is one of my favourite Shakespeare works, so to play Caliban in the great outdoors was a lot of fun. His language is so beautiful, and I also loved getting stuck into the physicality. Then for Puck, I got to dial up the mischief, just thinking of as many ways as I could to mess with the other characters on stage. Who wouldn’t love that? Also, we incorporated some unicycling, juggling, and stilt walking, which I’d not done on stage before.
What was it like being part of Fighting Irish at Belgrade Theatre as Martin McGough and how was it telling the story?
I think theatre at its most important is made by the community for the community. There’s no better example of this for me than Fighting Irish, written by Jamie McGough, telling the story of his own family. I think something like 80% of the audience had never been to The Belgrade before, and they really loved it. It belonged to them. Meeting Martin and the brothers afterwards was quite intimidating but they seemed happy so that was a relief.
What did you enjoy most about being in the cast of The Normal Heart at National Theatre and Present Laughter at The Old Vic?
They were both amazing opportunities to watch some of the best stage actors in the country do their thing. I didn’t have huge roles, but I learned a huge amount.
How did you get into acting and was it something you always wanted to do?
I was too shy to perform when I was a kid, and I don’t think I’m naturally a performer or particularly talented. But I made the decision when I was 14 that I wanted to go to Stagecoach. And I fell in love with theatre, especially dance and drama. I remember my dad thought it was a phase, but I‘ve never looked back. Now what excites me the most is the idea that I can always learn and get better. I plan to do this till I’m an old, old man.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
Sometimes I see everything I can, but other times it’s the last thing I want to do. Bit of a busman’s holiday maybe? Also, I can’t always afford it. Tickets are expensive, especially in London! Things I’ve seen recently and loved are The Effect at the National Theatre and A Mirror at the Almeida. But musical-wise, everyone has to see Come From Away when it heads out on tour next year! That’s an amazing musical.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
I spend as much time as I can with my dog, Alfie. He’s the best. But I love reading and do a bit of writing. Oh and bouldering too, that’s replaced the gym for me.
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