JEFF CARPENTER is fittingly bewitched by the piper’s tunes but otherwise left unenchanted.
ADC Theatre, Tuesday 13th – Saturday 17th December, 7.45pm, £8-12
Directed by Sarah Phelps
Written and Composed by Geoff Page
This play is a real epic. Musically, I’d go as far to say that it rivals stuff on the West End right now. Geoff Page (composer, writer, creator, arranger, etc.) has pulled off an brilliant work with nearly two hours of beautiful, interesting and creative music.
Unfortunately, the script commits the cardinal sin of not completing this sentence: “It’s about a _____ who wants to _____”. Audiences need to know this within 10 minutes of the curtain going up. With this show, we aren’t told even by the end of the second act, never mind the first.
There are too many characters for me to really care about what’s going on. There’s also just too many different styles for me to really work out what exactly I’m even meant to be caring about: we move from a Les Miz chorus outcry to God, to a humourless Shakespearean court, to a magical jester, to a Disney princess, to a fat funny villain-mayor, to the entire town dying of the plague. These styles go back and forth for the whole show, and it means that, as the audience, we were continually tossed and turned between a show for children and a show for adults.
The direction and choreography was in places very tame, so even with the luxury of having 20 people packed onstage it failed to pack any punch, but there were some stand-out performances. Benjamin Rowland as Jan, the lame boy, had an astonishingly mature voice for his age and great stage presence. Then again, he’s already done a production with the English Touring Opera so obviously he’s going places.
Alan Hay as the Mayor figure Bürgermeister Müller had a great G&S vibe and a fantastic voice, with a surprisingly subtle portrayal of his panto-esque villain. But like Kayleigh Orrock as Disney princess Ana Müller, I just wish they’d opened up more on their songs.
Kirsty Smith as the Duchess had a hilarious level of command and authority, so her introductory scene was a highlight. But all the actors seemed to have suffered from a lack of direction, and there was way too much dead time during songs with hosts of actors simply loitering around waiting for the next musical cue.
All this was a shame, because there were beautiful moments: the final tableau of the children and piper behind the gauze morphing into a drawing, the beautiful trees and woodland lighting which made for a dark, strikingly realistic forest, and the stained glass of the church all sent shivers up my theatre-spine. And the costumes in the court dance were literally astonishing. I think my eyes orgasmed.
But for me it was the music which stood out from this show. Page’s orchestration throughout shows flair and creativity – bass clarinet and glockenspiel bursts (I know) in Bürgermeister’s song, and gorgeous, playful clusters in the Ratcatcher’s Hamlet-style satire ‘Little Robin’. Combined with soaring melodies and a whole goody-bag of musical surprises, the show sounds like a scaled down Sondheim or Bernstein musical.
The Ratcatcher is one of those unfortunate cases where some real musical gems just aren’t set into an overall work which is worthy of them. Any keen musicians and composers I wholeheartedly urge to make the trip, but at the end of the day sadly not something I’d recommend to your average theatre-goer.