Rats’ Tales, Royal Exchange, Manchester - Review

Troll story: Hiran Abeysekera in Rats Tales at Manchester Royal Exchange.
Troll story: Hiran Abeysekera in Rats Tales at Manchester Royal Exchange.

Boys and girls come out to play in this very grown-up set of folk tales.

Some are taken from poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s collection The Stolen Childhood and all repeatedly emphasise the protection of a precious time in anyone’s life.

In their dark and cautionary telling the stories are more likely to appeal to those amongst us entrusted with that duty, rather than any young charges coming along to the theatre and expecting a Christmas treat.

While there is a lot of beguiling stage magic in director Melly Still’s dramatisation, (including a particularly well-executed conjuring trick) and buckets full of theatre-in-education technique, there’s also too much sophisticated story-telling, even allowing for Duffy’s enchanting use of language.

Less would have been more if the eight stories’ recurring rats had maybe nibbled them down to six or seven.

As it is there is the gnawing doubt whether this over-long production will reach across all generations of theatregoers.

There are all the staples of traditional tales, such as cruel stepfather, arrogant prince and wicked witch, and more rats than you would willingly shake a stick at...

Though many are killed and consumed, no actual rodents are harmed during the making of this production!

Sparing use of drop-down TV screens, featuring excellent video designs from Soup Collective, extend the story-telling possibilities.

There’s a suitably exuberant cast of eight, many of them new faces here, backed up by teams of youngsters who really only turn up to top and tail the performance.

Any of their contemporaries in the audience will probably take as much pleasure in hearing and seeing the wonderful soundscape created by a durable duo of multi-instrumentalists, Tom Thorp and Rosemary Toll.

Rats’ Tales runs until January 12.

David Upton