Whisper House at The Other Palace
The Other Palace is building a name for itself as a laboratory for “reimagining musical theatre”, and it’s latest performance is a lyrical piece that dissects the xenophobic paranoia of 40s America.
Inspired by the Trump reign of intolerance and open racism referred to in the programme, the audience is introduced to young, impressionable Christopher whose father died a war hero, driving his mother insane. Taken in by cranky Aunt Lily and her manservant Yasuhiro, he’s re-homed in a dankly spooky lighthouse where various metaphors for acceptance crop up.
The musical is vaguely reminiscent of The Woman in Black, and we’re guided by two ghostly singing apparitions who draw us in by breaking the fourth wall. Accompanied by a live band and littered with clever understated illusions, courtesy of Richard Pinner, the energy and visual impact is high, but the show is let down by songs that never fully land as the catchy, toe tapping tunes one would expect from Tony Award-winning artist Duncan Sheik. The introductory Better to Be Dead is graceless and confusing, and though things do improve with the fun Tale of Solomon Snell, the connection to the plot is vague at best, feeling more like a convenient segue into rhyme.
In spite of the disappointing music, the cast is exceptionally strong, in particular Stanley Jarvis in his professional stage debut as Christopher, and Simon Lipkin as the Sheriff.
Bolstered by impeccable costuming and set design, the show is full of character while remaining evocative of wartime America. The lighting and projection are equally brilliant, subtle and purposeful; they enrich the atmosphere and work hard to make up for the jumbled storyline and stilted script.
For a musical that claims such lofty political aspirations, the second Act falls short of its revolutionary objective. The injustice of Yasuhiro’s arrest is deadened by his lack of character development, but the final nails in the coffin are the “all’s well” ending, a bewildering closing number, and Yasuhiro’s ultimately insignificant role despite being the subject of persecution.
Whisper House‘s noble sentiments are commendable, but ultimately its shallow interpretation of race issues align it more with Pepsi’s pseudo political BLM blunder, than a champion of Liberal hearts. It isn’t the subversive parable it wants to be, but a stellar cast and solid creative team help make this production a likeable one.
Photo: Johan Persson
Whisper House is at The Other Palace from 19th April until 27th May 2017. Book your tickets here.