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Birmingham Rep’s Broad Street home is currently under renovation but they’re set for a triumphant return there in September opening with a typically stylish coup, Alan Bennett’s People following a sell-out run at the National Theatre.
In the meantime The Rep’s celebrating it’s centenary, one hundred years of delivering quality drama to the city n its original home, Britain’s first purpose-built repertory theatre in Station Street. Fittingly I Was A Rat turned out to be one of the most technically accomplished productions I can ever remember seeing. Based on a story by Philip Pullman this international production starts a UK tour soon, followed by stints in Italy and France.
Pullman’s tale fuses two ideas. One, a rat turned into a footman for Cinderella’s wedding, the other a version of Oliver set in the grimy underworld of a Dickensian city. There are moral messages, some overt, some not so, but the show’s the main thing, its sheer inventiveness fusing music, movement and physical theatre into a non-stop parade of clever ideas.
Seventeen-year-old Fox Jackson-Keen is a star-in-waiting as Roger the ex-rat, his charming gaucheries brilliantly allied to the strong physicality this show requires. Tyrone Huggins and Lorna Gayle as the childless couple who adopt him powerfully provide the touching background his tale requires.
But it’s the ensemble playing of the many-faceted cast brilliantly directed by Teresa Ludovico that lingers in the mind. Embracing multiple roles and playing a sophisticated range of instruments they bark and baffle their way into theatre history.
For me however what made the whole thing stratospheric was Luigi Spezzacatene’s costumes, hand-made, hand-dyed, at once the history and the future of fashion, museum-quality work alive and elegantly kicking. I’ve phoned everybody I can think of to say don’t miss it. Just don’t.
I Was A Rat runs at the Old Rep until March 2, then touring internationally.
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