This new musical by Robert J Sherman is fun, entertaining, poignant and excellently cast, delighting audiences at the Adelphi Theatre last night.
You hear the name Sherman and you automatically think of the Sherman Brothers, who created some of the most memorable music for films including The Jungle Book and Mary Poppins. Now continuing their legacy is the son of Robert B Sherman in this brand new musical that has plenty to make a song and dance out of.
Set in London during the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666, Bumblescratch is a story that follows a plague rat named Melbourne Bumblescratch who is a bit of a rogue but is willing to share his unique perspective of London through his gruesome tales. It is a tale of how it is never too late to make yourself into a better person (or in this case a rat) with a little bit of guidance.
Perfectly timed to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, this concert performance gives a strong idea of the direction it would take if it was to become a full scale production thanks to the direction and choreography of Stewart Nicholls, who has created a memorable and imaginative show with virtually no set and minimal props and costumes.
The key to making the show work is of course based on how solid and creative the music is and whether it can make the audience truly engage with the story. Thankfully, this isn’t a concern, as from beginning to end there is plenty of variety of songs that delight and entertain, from the wonderfully buoyant “At Least a Rat ‘As Got An Excuse” to the more poignant and heartfelt “My Place in the Sun”, ensuring a full range of emotions are brought out.
This performance featured a extremely talented cast and it is hard to imagine it better cast, so if it does come to the stage as a full scale production, it seems they have found a winning formula. Darren Day has the brunt of the vocal work to do as Melbourne Bumblescratch, the sneaky rat who actually has a heart of gold as seen during his scene despairing over the death of Perry. Day’s performance is pitch perfect, equally an element of nastiness but yet still likeable that his character is easy to like for the audience.
Ilan Galkoff is a young talent to certainly keep an eye out on in the future. His performance as the goodnatured and loyal Perry, the rodent that Bumblescratch meets and encourages him to become a better rat. His confident performance both vocally and in character was mesmerising to watch – hence the fact the scene in which he dies is particularly heart wrenching. Together Galkoff and Day’s chemistry is wonderful and a real pleasure to watch.
Meanwhile, Michael Xavier as Hookbeard (not quite sure the relevance of his character) is certainly a quirky and unusual character for him to play. But it is also a revelation as it brings out the playful side of him – as seen in the brilliantly choreographed scene “I Cannot Hear You” – which does bring a lot of laughter and joy.
Although the majority of the show is lighthearted and entertaining, there are moments of seriousness which add a bit of depth to the show – for example Bumblescratch realising that it is the rats in fact causing the plague and when many of them die in the Great Fire he realises the best thing to do is start a new life elsewhere. It isn’t a show that hides away from historical topics, yet in the manner of Horrible Histories manages to break them down to make family entertainment.
As it is all sung through, there is a sense that the plot is somewhat lost at occasional moments – particularly when Hookbeard is involved, but somehow the show manages to get it back on track. It also needs a touch more character development as by the end you still don’t quite feel that you know them as well as you should.
But this aside, Bumblescratch has real potential to become a really joyful family show with its sheer imagination and wonderful variety of characters that will keep children engrossed from beginning to end. Wonderful evening’s entertainment.