I’ve been a fan of rock musicals from a young age.
As a young theatre geek growing up the wilds of New Zealand, it was incredibly valuable for me to be able to listen to an art form I loved and have that music be as relevant and current as what my peers were listening to on the radio. I fell in love with shows like Rent, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Spring Awakening. Spring Awakening was a particular favourite of mine as it was performed by actors my age and I entertained dreams of moving to Broadway and joining the cast. While that surprisingly never happened, I made sure to follow the Tony and Grammy Award winning composer of Spring Awakening, Duncan Sheik, closely to get as much of his music as I could possibly fit into my ear holes. Since Spring Awakening, Sheik composed the music for the successful West End and Broadway adaption of Bret Easton Ellis’ thriller American Physco and now presents his latest offering Whisper House at The Other Palace.
In 1942 during the height of World War II, imaginative Christopher is sent to live with his estranged Aunt Lily who runs a lighthouse on the East Coast of America with help from Japanese-American Yasuhiro. It’s not long before Christopher begins to hear strange music seeping through the walls of the lighthouse. Has he imagined it or could the lighthouse be haunted? Combining an original rock score with a haunting tale about learning to embrace the unknown, Whisper House stars Simon Bailey as Male Ghost, Nicholas Goh as Yasuhiro, Simon Lipkin as Sherrif, Niamh Perry as Female Ghost, Dianne Pilkington as Aunt Lily and Fisher Costello-Rose and Stanley Jarvis sharing the role of Christopher. Having missed actually seeing both Spring Awakening and American Physco, I’m incredibly excited to be able to see one of my favourite musical theatre composer’s new works in Whisper House.
Male and Female Ghost act as narrator’s for Whisper House, manipulating the cast’s actions to tell the story, commenting on and moving the story forward. Simon Bailey and Niamh Perry work well together as the two ghosts, vocally blending well. Niamh Perry shines as Female Ghost, combining a great makeup and costume design with spooky characterisation and solid rock vocals. Her physicality onstage is flowing and effortless and I really believed her portrayal of a mischievous spirit. Simon Bailey’s ghost also offered a polished vocal, however I found his movement and physicality somewhat forced and disjointed from the ethereal ghost he was portraying. Dianne Pilkington as Aunt Lily is a triumph. Struggling to find common ground with the young Christopher, Aunt Lily struggles with an on-going injury, her feelings for Yasuhiro and being ostracised by the local township. Pilkington delivers an interesting, guarded Aunt Lily who doesn’t take herself too seriously knowing her own faults and privately wearing her heart on her sleeve. Torn between his feelings for Lily and his war time duty, Simon Lipkin’s Sherrif is effectively portrayed and his ‘The Tale Of Solomon Snell’ offers a great story telling moment that Lipkin handles with aplomb. As Japanese-American Yasuhiro, Nicholas Goh offers a layered performance that is both effecting and harrowing, considering Trump’s current treatment of immigrants entering the US. Tackling the loss of his parents, experiencing self doubt and confusion, Stanley Jarvis as Christopher delivers a strong performance often beyond his years. Overall the cast offered well rounded performances effectively telling the story and drawing the audience into the world of Whisper House.
Not all musical’s need to have toe tapping music or memorable songs to be successful. In fact most well-loved musicals usually only have a handful of songs audiences will come out of the theatre humming. Duncan Sheik’s score and Kyle Jarrow’s lyrics offer a suitably spooky and atmospheric accompaniment to the story of Whisper House and I found myself wishing I could purchase a cast recording to listen to the songs on repeat. Andrew Riley’s set cleverly depicts the many levels of a lighthouse, the dangerous sea shore and uses weatherboard to effectively envisage a New England style. Adding to the ghostly imagery, Mark Holthusen’s paper cut-out projections lead the audience from room to room within the lighthouse and to the shoreline effortlessly. Alex Drofiak’s lighting design perfectly illuminated the stage to capture different locales throughout the show, often following the actors and lighting up the stage as they walked. Combined with Adam Lenson’s direction, The Other Palaces’ Whisper House is stylistically and visually stunning.
Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow’s Whisper House offers a wonderfully talented cast, combined with a truly original rock score and beautiful story. New musical theatre at its best, in Whisper House The Other Palace is quickly achieving it’s goal of becoming London’s hub for new musical theatre and I’m very excited to see the rest of this season’s new works.
Reviewed by Stuart James
Whisper House plays at The Other Palace until 27 May 2017