Dark and beguiling ‘Rats’ Tales’

'Rats' Tales' at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until January 12th.
'Rats' Tales' at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until January 12th.
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review: “Rats’ Tales”, at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until January 12th.

Box office: 0161 8339833. Website: www.royalexchange.co.uk

The Royal Exchange’s world premiere of “Rats’ Tales” starts with a wonderful script by poet laureate Carol Anne Duffy, whose poetry I have long admired (and taught).

She has written about Grimm Tales and The Stolen Childhood, which I now intend to re-read. Rats’ Tales is based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin, a story in which children are stolen from their parents.

The production has been dramatised and directed by Melly Still, with whom Duffy has collaborated for many years. The initial episode leads into the telling of a number of European folk tales, many with dark undertones of lost families, an envious mother who steals her daughter’s childhood, a child who outgrows her tiny family, a child who is stolen by trolls, a child who becomes invisible when his mother remarries, a child who is faced with the prospect of marrying her own father and takes drastic steps to escape and find her own future.

There is a psychological depth to these tales, which force us to consider our thoughts about maternal and paternal instincts and about the very nature of childhood. That said, the design team and the team of eight accomplished actors plus two skilful musicians (Tom Thorpe and Rosemary Toll) put forward a wonderfully enthralling interpretation.

Each actor plays many roles and each has a chance to shine. Micheal Mears as the Pied Piper, Meline Danielewicz as the child who outgrown the doll’s house, Hiran Abeysekera as the wonderfully believable troll child, Daniel Milne as the invisible boy and the comic Squire, Katherine Manners and Emily Wachter as mothers and daughters and Kelly Williams as the Cook, together with Jack Tarleton as the producer of the Lost Happy Endings.

They are all excellent and they are well supported by an enchanting band of three teams of about 30 children from local schools and drama groups. However, it is the direction and the design, led by Anna Fleishle, which make this a memorable performance, helped by the video contribution from Soup Collective. This is not a sugary-sweet Christmas production, but it is not to be missed. I had a chance to chat to the younger brother of the boy who was playing the changeling and from him I think that it is suitable for all adults and children from 10 and over.