The Underlibrary of Unofficial Histories
“It’s been a mind-blowing experience for the kids. They’ve been amazed by everything that’s been happening.”
Martin Dougherty, Teacher St James Primary School Yamba
In partnership with the Catholic Schools Office, Diocese of Lismore, NORPA’s creative team has developed an innovative new work, The Underlibrary of Unofficial Histories. Part immersive theatre, part game and part interactive research project, The UnderLibrary of UnOfficial Histories provides a theatrical lens and ‘world’ through which teachers and students will engage in the Stage Two History syllabus.
‘The Underlibrary’ entices the young audience into a rescue mission. The adventure begins with the arrival of postcards and artefacts sent from different periods of time in history in the lead up to the in-school performance. On the day of the performance the children are introduced to Zelda who shares the story of a librarian called Mr Finch and her missing brother Albus. Zelda then asks the children to help her solve a number of puzzles to gather clues that will help her find her brother and restart history!
Far, far in the future there is a library called History’s End. The library is huge, though most of its bookshelvs are empty. The library is open, though no one visits, except the moths.
The library has a hundred books, but only one title, as every copy is the same. It’s a history book, from way back in 2021. No one knows what came after; that’s the year history stopped. And with each nightly visit from the moths, a little more disappears.
By day, the librarians mend the books as best they can, but covers and bindings both are easier to replace than all the many missing words. Picture it: whole pages are riddled with holes, gulping words and sometimes sentences and paragraphs too until all that’s left is lace. And then it’s the librarians’ job to look at what’s left and guess at what’s gone and fill in the gaps as best they can. This means that chapters are always changing, as words come and go, and a book you picked up on a Monday might contradict itself by Tuesday and by Friday be another book entirely!
The head librarian is a man named Finch and it’s his job to make sure the few books left all tell the same story, so there can never be any confusion or doubt. And as the library lends its books out to all the surrounding cities, it’s Finch who has the last word on history. Every afternoon he reviews the day’s revisions, making sure they all add up. Those that don’t are dispensed with: torn up and tossed out. It might seem harsh, but with so few books left, history is far too valuable to get into fights about. That’s how wars used to start! Which is why it’s so important every history book agrees on what happened in the past and when and why. The system isn’t perfect, but so long as there’s only one book, and the moths keep coming, there’s nothing else to do.
Twins, Albus and Zelda, work in the library and it’s their job to dust the books and shoo away the moths. While Zelda is curious, always asking questions and getting into trouble, her brother Albus is quiet and cautious, though he delights in riddles. Zelda loves history but Albus prefers mysteries – though he’s never read one as none are left in the library. But when a mysterious crate full of brand new books from the past appears late one night, the brother and sister will discover a secret library where they’ll learn that history is far more complicated than they thought.
But when Albus is seized by Mr Finch and the two fall through time, along with a couple of moths, so begins Zelda’s quest to bring her brother home, and save the future. However, the only clue she has is a handful of torn pages from a book called ‘The History of the Clarence’.
This is a rescue mission. To find Albus and restart History. And Zelda needs your help. Because her brother is here. She’s just not sure when.
Co-creators Valley Lipcer & Caleb Lewis
Writer & Game Designer Caleb Lewis
Director & Dramaturg Valley Lipcer
Performer Melia Naughton
Costume & Set Design Charlotte Haywood & Ed Horne
Education Resources Valley Lipcer | with contribution from Alice Tate
Graphic Designer Anja Roehrdanz
With special thanks to: Maxine Nemo for her creative involvement through SCU Live Ideas, Alice Tate for her supporting research, Samantha Lynch and Kate Salmon from the Catholic Schools Office and all the kids (and their parents) who gave us their great ideas and questions in the test showings.
This work has been supported by the Catholic Schools Office, Diocese of Lismore.
Photos | Vanessa Kellas