I Was A Rat!, a play adapted from the Philip Pullman novel by director Teresa Ludovico, literally jumped on to the Nottingham Playhouse stage on Tuesday night.
Walking into the theatre, I thought back to my last experience of I Was A Rat! when I read the book as a young teen. Remembering it as a twist on a classic fairy-tale fuelled by a witty tone and a loveable protagonist, I hoped it would live up to this potentially rose tinted memory. Teresa Ludovico’s production exceeded expectations, developing a magical and poignant take on the original book.
The play follows the story of a young boy who knocks on the door of an elderly couple with the words ‘I was a rat!’ They name him Roger and attempt to find out where he came from, which proves to be rather difficult. Roger’s story is for anyone who ever wondered what happened to the enchanted rat after Cinderella’s fairy-tale ending.
Ludovico transforms a small cast of eight actors into an army of energetic, costume changing, musicians and dancers. Although a particularly spectacular performance by Fox Jackson-Keen as Roger, evidently putting his Billy Elliot experience to excellent use in this constantly moving, acrobatic like role, all the actors deserve a medal for their effortless transitions from character to character.
The production is visually stunning, from the beautiful portrayal of seasons using just a fan and small pieces of coloured paper on a stark blank stage, to the crazed and grotesque carnival scene, it is truly a sensual explosion. With music, acrobatic dance, fantastical costumes and even a confetti cannon, it achieves funny moments while confronting the audience with some dark themes.
Roger’s simple innocence throughout is juxtaposed with the corrupt society. Figures of authority (policemen, doctors, philosophers, judges) are satirised, all depicted with long and undeniably rat like noses. In a modern society of sensationalism, lies and strict rules bound by concepts of normality, the least monstrous of all the characters is the rat boy. Though the play sometimes borders on surreal, it maintains a realistic aspect, treating the common themes of identity and inclusion in Roger’s quest to be accepted. At moments, with the dark stage and bright spotlight, the emotion is so stark it is hard to detach yourself; you become very involved and moved by this poor boy’s story.
It has been promoted as a play for all, and with many children in the audience, it certainly worked as a multifaceted story. However, I think the sombre and chilling depiction of authority and their treatment of ‘other’ was the most poignant aspect of I Was A Rat! and is certainly what I take away from the production. It’s a must see!
I Was a Rat runs until Saturday 13 April 2013 at the Nottingham Playhouse. For ticket information go to: http://www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/