tue 21/11/2017

Whisper House, The Other Palace review - 'a delicately calibrated human story struggling to be heard' | reviews, news & interviews

Whisper House, The Other Palace review - 'a delicately calibrated human story struggling to be heard'

Whisper House, The Other Palace review - 'a delicately calibrated human story struggling to be heard'

Scary? Not this ghost-story rock musical, sadly

Give the boy a break: Simon Bailey and Niamh Perry as the ghosts, with Fisher Costello-RoseImages Johan Persson

It used to be said that the devil had all the best music. But the devil seems to have lost his touch in this ghost-story rock musical from Duncan Sheik, composer of the stage version of American Psycho and the award-laden Spring Awakening. If the plot seems familiar, it’s because it is – in essence, anyway. An isolated location. Childhood innocence in peril. Malevolent ghosts with a score to settle. Another American abroad tied up that narrative package more than a century ago in The Turn of the Screw.

But the main problem with Whisper House, which premiered in San Diego in 2010 and here receives its European premiere, is the devil’s music itself. It’s the thumping beat, loud amplification and stroppy, stadium-gig stage manners that threaten to sink what is otherwise a perfectly sea-worthy, even intriguing, chamber-scale musical drama.

Whisper HouseThe setting – Kyle Jarrow wrote the book and co-wrote the shockingly bland lyrics – is a lighthouse on the rocky coast of Maine in 1942. A boy, Christopher, arrives there to be cared for by his Aunt Lily, his pilot father having been lost in service and his mother to a mental institution. The crabby aunt (a classy, low-key performance from Dianne Pilkington) is the lighthouse keeper, and for 20 years has lived there alone but for a Japanese manservant (Nicholas Goh, another good, subtle performance) and occasional visits from Simon Lipkin’s testy Sheriff, who despite his rough manner and no encouragement seems to hold a candle for Lily, who has a club foot as well as a disinclination to chat.

Of course, the lighthouse is haunted. But Sheik throws away any chance of spooking us with the discovery by having his two ghosts introduce themselves squarely in the opening song, the blastingly un-nuanced “Better to Be Dead”. Little Christopher, apparently covering his ears to block out the ghosts’ appeals to him by name, might just be finding it all too noisy.

Too many songs are given to the ghosts, too few to the more interesting characters

It emerges that the doomy pair (Niamh Perry in Morticia Addams’ make-up and long white dress, Simon Bailey looking disconcertingly normal) were victims of a shipwreck in 1922 and, drowned before they could declare their love, have ever since been hell-bent on revenge, and loud and furious singing.

Striding around the circular well that represents the lighthouse (set, Andrew Riley), the dead pair cut absurdly vigorous figures, Perry sometimes breaking into a manic rock-chick skip, Bailey thrusting his hips and beating the air, never mind that both their characters met their demise in the era of the Charleston. Neither Sheik’s music nor Adam Lenson’s direction pay any heed to period, despite having taken the trouble of dividing the seven-piece band into halves: rock band to the right of the stage, winds and keyboard to the left. Balance isn’t the show’s strong suit. Far too many songs are given to the ghosts, too few to the more interesting characters. Yasuhiro, the servant, whose story becomes pivotal, doesn’t sing at all, the aunt and the Sheriff very little, and never together.

Whisper House is an oddity, that’s for sure. Even its title is odd: "Shouty House" would have been more apt. Yet beneath the crassness and high volume is a delicately calibrated human story struggling to be heard. If this really is the kind of experiment Andrew Lloyd Webber had in mind for his newly acquired venue (this is its second offering), then the box office may be in for a bumpy ride.

As a title, 'Shouty House' would have been more apt

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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