by Carol Ann Duffy dramatised by Melly Still.
Royal Exchange St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 12 December 2013.
2.30pm 9 Jan.
3.30pm 26-31 Dec, 2, 5, 12 Jan.
7.30pm 26-31 Jan, 2-5, 7-12 Jan.
Audio-described 5 Jan 3.30pm.
BSL Signed 8 Jan.
Captioned 3 Jan.
Runs 2hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 December.
Antidote to pantomimes celebrates fearless storytelling.
Manchester’s the place for fabulous fabulism this Christmas, reaching back to remote pasts for stories of wisdom and archetypes of human experience. The Library company at Salford’s Lowry have the warmth of tales from Asian traditions in Arabian Nights, the Royal Exchange cold medieval Europe where forests and strangers in town mirrored fears and loss. The “cold winter’s night” where European tradition sets biblical Nativity events could easily have been a setting like these, for children run – physically and thematically – through Carol Ann Duffy’s drama.
Its eight stories, created by Duffy or gathered from round Europe, play with barely a breath between, like a page-turner anthology; each reflecting and amplifying the others, validating the experiences as part of life’s – and lives’ – contexts.
Such darkness reveals the secrets hidden within the complexities of human nature. They emerge metamorphosed but recognisable to those ready – by experience general or specific – to recognise them, while one image, of a girl outgrowing her dolls-house home, might be a directorial add-on to Ibsen’s play.
The undermining misery of childhood isolation by adult power becomes apparent through mundane domestic details, when, in a relocation of the wicked stepmother, a new father demolishes a boy’s self-confidence through ignoring him. Separation recurs; a mother loses her child, and is left a Troll’s offspring instead. Soon, the father has the changeling in his sights. His attempts to kill the child are defeated by the mother’s concern for the boy they’re bringing up. When their child reappears, the importance of her maternal instinct for the Troll-lad is apparent.
For there’s nothing remote about the themes underlying Rats’ Tales. Remove the troll identity here, and substitute ‘severely disabled’. The familiar Pied Piper, starting things off, includes a glib politician whose rotten promises bring disaster on ‘his’ town (humour emerges surprisingly often). Melly Still knows such theatrical storytelling intimately, and her cast respond skilfully on Anna Fleischle’s relentlessly dark set. Or, not quite relentless; tracks lead off into the Exchange’s open foyers. And children frame the action, from their pre-show rat-pack runs to a final triumphant return to the stage’s living world.
Woodcutter: Hiran Abeysekera.
Teacher: Meline Danielewicz.
Seamstress: Katherine Manners.
Pied Piper: Michael Mears.
Politician: Dan Milne.
Priest: Jack Tarlton.
Poet: Emily Wachter.
Cook: Kelly Williams.
Musicians: Tom Thorp, Rosemary Toll.
Director: Melly Still.
Designer: Anna Fleischle.
Lighting: Paul Anderson.
Sound/Music: Dave Price.
Video: Soup Collective.
Associate director: Andrew Barry.
Assistant director: Holly Race Roughan.