Teresa Ludovico of Teatro Kismet of Bari, in collaboration with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Nottingham Playhouse and New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, has created an engaging interpretation of Pullman’s story, where a young outcast struggles to gain acceptance.
The tale begins when a quiet evening in for Bob and Joan is disturbed by the arrival of Roger, dressed in a page boy’s uniform but repeatedly announcing through word and action that, “I was a rat!”.
Then we’re taken for a thrilling ride following Roger’s misadventures as he unsuccessfully tries to engage with a culture entirely alien to his experience. His eagerness to please but inability to adapt socially sees him being plunged into hotter and hotter water.
He suffers at the hands of those who seek to exploit his strangeness. It’s here that the writer takes a timely opportunity to pillory the gutter press, which takes form in the play as ‘”The Daily Scourge – The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing Like the Truth”.
Fox Jackson-Keen in the principal role of Roger displays all the exuberance and nervous excitement you’d expect to see in an anthropomorphised rodent. His habit of chewing on anything in close proximity generated lots of laughter from the children in the audience, but one particularly energetic dance routine brought a spontaneous round of applause from us all.
Tyrone Huggins (Bob) and Lorna Gayle (Joan) as Roger’s only real protectors bring a gentleness and humanity to the play, allowing us to catch our breath as they drive on the narrative with their concerns and hopes. Their simple love for each other and Roger counterbalances some of the madness that goes on in the Dickensian world they inhabit.
This madness is provided by the rest of the cast, five men working so energetically that it’s almost impossible to keep up with the speed of the costume changes. Their physicality is a marvel. In a blur, they appear as dozens of characters, including bumbling policemen, naughty schoolchildren, malevolent journalists and Roger’s rat family. The quality of the acting eliminates any potential confusion and the beauty of Luigi Spezzacatene’s costumes are a joy in themselves. They suggest influences as diverse as Blade Runner, The League of Gentlemen and the character of the Philosopher Royal as well as the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They combine beautifully when we’re introduced to the bizarre performers in Mr Tapscrew’s circus, who unsettle and entertain in equal measure.
The use of lighting, rather than sets or props, to create atmosphere and environment brought another fascinating element to a brilliant production. My ten year old companion was enthralled throughout and particularly loved the rats with headlights for eyes and a chase sequence which saw all but one of the cast moving in slow motion.
Our enjoyment of the evening was only slightly spoilt by the family of five behind us, noisily sharing a bag of toffees. The Lowry’s practice of selling sweets – in the most rustleworthy bags they can find – at the interval is something that needs to be rethought.
Review by Charlie Bell
Where: The Lowry, Salford Quays, Salford
When: until May 11, 2013
More info: www.thelowry.com/events/i-was-a-rat/home/