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Mr Monkey sees Rats' Tales at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 29th November 2012
End date : 12th January 2013
Visit date : 3rd December, 2012
The Pied Piper  (Michael Mears)  making a deal with the people of Hamelin (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
After spending the afternoon being part of a focus group at the John Rylands' Library, and the early evening eating poffertjes in Albert Square, Mr Monkey scampered into the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of Rats' Tales.

He checked the poster outside, then strolled in to collect his tickets. He found that the Education lounge had been converted into a Rats' Lair full of rat-related activities, and that there were rat runways linking the theatre pod doors.

Mr Monkey looking at the Rats' Tales poster outside the theatre Rats' Tales is Melly Still's adaptation of Carol Ann Duffy's book, itself a mix of traditional fairy tales and new stories.

The basic idea is that the adults of Hamelin, having lost all their children, take to the road as a performing company, working through their grief by acting out fairy tales.

There are eight stories in all, preceded with a chant by the massed rats of the Royal Exchange.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin is updated in that the piper is defrauded by the Politician rather than the Mayor. The Stolen Childhood which features an extreme form of shadow-based identity theft. A doll experiences strange changes in A Little Girl while in The Changeling a woman's love for a substitute child is tested.

After the interval, Invisible shows that people need attention to fully exist, Wooden Maria demonstrates the advantages of wooden clothing and The Squire's Bride is a ribald tale in which a poor-but-honest maiden tricks a rich-and-lechourous squire into an unexpected marriage. Finally there is The Lost Happy Endings, in which we find how important rats are to bedtime stories.

This selection means that there is an engaging mixture of drama and comedy, with a common theme of the necessity of moral choices and not just doing something because it's easy.
The Pied Piper (Michael Mears) preparing to remove the rats from Hamelin (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) The stage is empty, scenery and props being brought on when needed. Illumination is provided by a starfield of lights in jars and bottles suspended from the pod.

Also dangling from the pod are a number of flat screens which are occassionally lowered to show scenery, the events happening inside a dolls' house on the stage, and events happening outside the theatre. The clever interplay between action on the stage and the display on the screens is particularly effective.

There are some stunning visual effects, especially relating to fires - the farm burning down in The Changeling is especially effective - and mirrors. Mr Monkey was very impressed by the effects created by the physicality of the actors' perfomances.

The professional actors are ably assisted by teams of children recruited from local schools, the children playing rats and, well, children. Mr Monkey enjoyed the comments by the children that appear in the programme.

The acting by both adults and children is spirited and affecting and there is fine ensemble acting from the the very start. Adult actors take turn and turnabout at being heroes, villains or supporters (or parts of a horse) throughout the sequence though Michael Mears might be a little more villainous than anyone else.

The whole performance is excellently accompanied by music from Tom Thorpe (who Mr Monkey recently heard accompanying a showing of Nosferatu) and Rosemary Toll.
Mr Monkey thinks that the wonderful acting, singing, musicianship and choreography of Rats' Tales combine to create an evening of powerful and magical storytelling. Packed with tears, laughter and fairy tale happy endings, it has lots to offer to young and old and monkeys. The joyous finale even finishes with a shower of gold strips which are, Mr Monkey found, surprisingly hard to catch.
Mr Monkey at home, admiring the golden strips he caught

Rats' Tales runs until January 12th 2013.

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Copyright Rik Shepherd, Carol Pollitt and Mr Monkey.