Rats’ Tales at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre

Last night I went to see the world premiere of Carol Ann Duffy’s  ‘Rats’ Tales’ at Manchester’s magnificent Royal Exchange Theatre. As you probably know, I am a huge fan of all things theatrical and have seen some incredible shows so far this year in 2012, but have I saved the best while (almost) last? Read on Tortoise Soup friend and find out!


‘Rats’ Tales’ was written  by the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and was adapted for the stage and directed by Melly Still. It runs until 12th January 2013, unless the Mayans are correct, and is aimed at a family audience. As my own forthcoming novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ can also be enjoyed by both children and adults I was fascinated to see what lay ahead. An initial word of warning here though – some of this theatrical event (I can’t call it simply a ‘play’) is very dark and could be terrifying to younger children.

‘Rat’s Tales’ is a dramatic interpretation of eight ostensibly unconnected stories. The first story is very well known: that of the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. After this we have seven stories created by Duffy herself. These are very dark fairy tales, newly created but very in keeping with folk tradition – in the way that Italo Calvino did with Italy’s folk tales.

The stories are often sad, frequently violent and on one level bizzare and challenging. For example ‘Wooden Maria’ where the King is fated to marry his own daughter and ‘The Squire’s Bride’ where the titular noble is encouraged to marry a horse.

Death runs throughout the tales, as do rats in one form or another, and there are also two deadly fires. The real theme that connects the Tales however is childhood and aging, the horror of disappearing youth. These modern fairy stories challenge us to encounter our own mortality, our own fleeting and tender hold on what we consider reality.

Yes, the tales are very dark but that is not to say bleak. The children in the audience seemed to love it, and there are often moments of high humour amidst astonishingly acrobatic displays of physical theatre. A joyous ending had my eyes moistening up, I hope that my companion didn’t see, and should help to appease any frightened audience members.

The staging was courageous and successful. Eight actors play numerous parts each, and their efforts were uniformly brilliant. It is hard to pick out one shining star, but special praise has to go to Katherine Manners, especially moving in Wooden Maria.

The special effects were excellent, especially the use of television screens around the set to show us external events. Music and dance also played a large part, the morris dancing horse has to be seen to be believed.

In fact, ‘Rats’ Tales’ as a whole has to be seen to be believed. It is an astonishing work, quite simply I have never seen anything like it before. I came away at the end energised, full of life and with the certain knowledge that I had been at the first night of a work of theatrical genius.

My five tortoise shell rating hardly does this masterpiece justice, but five shells it receives. I thoroughly recommend that you see this show if you get the chance. Is it the best thing that I have seen this year? Well I have seen an awful lot – so to find out be sure to check out the 2012 Tortoise Soup Awards on New Year’s Eve. Please comment below if you have seen it or have any other suggestions for a great show to see this Christmas time.



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. DramaBuff
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 15:39:41

    Great review and an informative blog as always. I will check this one out when I am up north!


  2. lynnholland
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 08:56:57

    Thank you for doing this review, ive passed it on to my goddaughter to read before we go to the performance. She is studying the Performing Arts so I am sure it will be a useful resource for her.
    Thanks again


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