All the World’s a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts
When 12-year-old Kit is caught pick-pocketing at the Theatre playhouse in London, he is given a choice: he can go to prison for his crime, or he can work for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men until he has paid back the money he stole. Kit chooses to work and quickly finds himself immersed in the politics of the Elizabethan theatre world. As Kit is introduced to such figures as Richard Burbage, Will Kemp, and William Shakespeare, new possibilities open out before him. Instead of a mere orphan on the street, could he be an apprenticed stagehand? A master carpenter? Even a player himself? Whatever his future holds, Kit knows that he belongs with his new theatre friends, and will do anything to support them. When the landlord evicts the company from the playhouse, Kit joins the dangerous plot to dismantle the theatre under the cover of darkness, and carry the timbers across the river to lay the foundations for what will become the world-famous Globe.
With simple, pleasant prose, Woelfle tells a classic coming-of-age story against the colorful backdrop of 1590s London. While the storyline is predictable, and the dialogue straightforward, I found such simplicity easy to forgive in a book so neatly constructed. The five “acts” of Kit’s emotional journey fit nicely with the theatre theme, as does the Dramatis Personae at the opening of the novel. Thomas Cox’s quirky illustrations also complement the theme beautifully. The world of Woelfle’s novel is a benevolent one, where mistakes are made but forgiven, and where camaraderie among the players always triumphs over adversity. Each character gets his or her just desserts, and each finds a special place to belong.