The set goes down low in Whisper House – its lowest point is several feet below stage level. Sightlines, thankfully, do not suffer in a venue like this with such a steep rake. Plumbing the depths of The Other Palace Theatre served as something of a symbol of the narrative, which immediately plunges into its opening number, called Better To Be Dead. It’s such a repeated phrase that five of the sixteen musical numbers have that title, and always sung, with some gusto, by two ghosts, played by Simon Bailey and Niamh Perry. I must hold back from providing too much detail, but suffice to say they are the most photogenic ‘ghosts’ I have ever seen, and I would be very surprised indeed if someone were, except if speaking in jest or with sarcasm, to tell me they were spooked by them.
They do at least spook young Christopher (at press night, Stanley Jarvis; the child role is shared with Fisher Costello-Rose) who inadvertently puts himself in danger, stopped only by the persistent cries and preventive actions of Aunt Lily (Dianne Pilkington). The show isn’t nearly as melodramatic as I had assumed it might be, having listened to the concept album beforehand. On that album, as on stage, the musical numbers are of a similar, borderline pedestrian beat. I suppose if you’re into Coldplay, you’ll like the music of Whisper House – and it almost goes without saying that Coldplay’s fan base remains substantial.
But almost everyone is deemed by Male Ghost and Female Ghost (that’s honestly what they’re called) to be better off dead that I couldn’t, in the end, help wondering if that included me. The show must have been somewhat engrossing for me to have thought so, however unpleasant that thought was. But the second number, We’re Here To Tell You, includes a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Elsewhere, a separate story, The Tale of Solomon Snell, fails to add much, if anything, to the main plotline, and might well have been cut by a more ruthless creative team than this one. Harsh, but true. There’s a redemption of sorts in a ‘never give up’ resolution from both Lily and Christopher, and so despite the best efforts of the ghosts, and the federal government, the American Dream remains intact. This is, after all, a musical.
Or is it? It’s not exactly a song-and- dance extravaganza, though not all musicals are in any event. But this felt like a play with music rather than a musical. While the first two or three numbers moved the story on, the rest only underlined what was already revealed through spoken dialogue. By the latter stages of Act Two the melodies were actively interrupting the flow of the story. A freeze frame during yet another chorus only added to the frustration, and it is only the ghosts’ lovely vocals and an excellent band led by Daniel A Weiss that made the waiting comfortably bearable. The final number, although enthusiastic, was out of place. For those who enjoyed the show more than this reviewer did, it may have been a bit jarring, and certainly not in keeping with the rest of the show. For me, it may have been a respite from the almost relentlessly bleak atmosphere of the last couple of hours, but too little too late.
The script is just about sufficient enough to establish setting, but the video projections are helpful nonetheless here. Like most leading child characters in theatrical productions, Christopher possesses a self-confidence beyond his biological years, speaking to Sheriff Charlie (Simon Lipkin) about a matter concerning ‘the help’, Yasuhiro (Nicholas Goh), against the debatably better advice of Lily. The plight of Yasuhiro comes across as an inconspicuous parallel between what happened in World War Two to foreign nationals in America and the anti-immigrant rhetoric from the current administration.
While this production moved at too slow a pace for me, its overall message could not, despite the sheer repetition in this play with words, be reiterated enough. The future is to be faced not feared. This is a fairly intriguing and thoughtful production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
An eerie lighthouse stands on the remote East Coast of America at the height of World War II. When Christopher’s father’s plane is shot down, he is sent to live with his Aunt Lily and her mysterious Japanese housekeeper. It isn’t long before he starts to hear strange music seeping through the walls… but is his imagination getting the better of him, or are the ghosts warning of real danger?
Soon the whispers become something louder.
Starring Simon Bailey, Nicholas Goh, Simon Lipkin, Niamh Perry, Dianne Pilkington and a seven-piece on-stage band, Whisper House combines a thrillingly original rock score with an unforgettable story about learning to embrace the unknown.
Music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening, American Psycho), book and lyrics by Obie award-winning Kyle Jarrow (A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant) and conceived with Keith Powell.
Suitable for ages 8+
Simon Bailey – Male Ghost
Nicholas Goh – Yasuhiro
Simon Lipkin – Sheriff
Niamh Perry – Female Ghost
Dianne Pilkington – Aunt Lily
Fisher Costello-Rose – Christopher
Stanley Jarvis – Christopher
Daniel A. Weiss – Conductor/Keyboards
Ollie Hannifan – Guitar
Tim Dullaway – Bass
James Pritchard – Drums
Tom Bettley – French Horn
Sarah Campbell – Trumpet/ Piccolo Trumpet/ Clarinet/ Bass Clarinet
Chris Hatton – Contrabass Clarinet
Duncan Sheik – Music & Lyrics
Kyle Jarrow – Book & Lyrics
Keith Powell – Conceived with
Adam Lenson – Director
Daniel A. Weiss – Musical Director
Andrew Riley – Set & Costume Designer
Mark Holthusen – Projection Designer
Naomi Said – Movement Director
Alex Drofiak – Lighting Designer
Gregory Clarke – Sound Designer
Richard Pinner – Illusions
Jason Hart – Orchestrations
Brass/Wind Orchestrations – Simon Hale
Amanda Holland – Producer
Grace Taylor – Assistant Director
Noam Galperin – Associate Musical Director
Jonnie Riordan – Associate Movement Director
Jem Kitchen – Associate Sound Designer
Chris Taylor – Associate Lighting Designer
Graham Webb – Associate Lighting Designer
19 April – 27 May 2017