Pied Piper

Reviewer's rating

This joyful, chaotic and engaging re-imagining of the Pied Piper story by Battersea Arts Centre’s Beat Box Collective is a wonderful example of what BAC does so well. Their Thursday night classes aim to allow young people to improve their skills and work with others to create music and tell stories through music. This show, that offers the cream of the Collective a chance to show their talents, has grown out of the classes – and the joy and enthusiasm of the performers on the first night was rightly matched by a standing ovation from the audience. There is no way to pin a simple label on what sort of show this is – I thought at one point about using the terms ‘rock opera’ or “modern musical”  – but it is creatively constructed from a range of musical and dramatic sources and the labels really don’t matter. It’s all a bit chaotic and occasionally it misses the mark, but the overwhelming impression is of a collective triumph.

The Mayor of Hamelin owns a pie factory where a group of children slave away and try to keep the rats at bay. Despite this, he is desperate to win the town’s version of ‘Bake Off’. He knows he is fighting a losing battle against the rats, and his brutal treatment of his young workers means they are not keen to help him preserve his pies. Eventually he calls in a mysterious rat-catcher to rid the town of the rats, promising to pay 100 gold coins. The Pied Piper succeeds but the mayor refuses to pay up and so the piper says that in revenge he will kidnap all the young workers. But they are not about to escape from the domination of the mayor for a different sort of captivity and they fight back. As we would hope in the run up to Christmas (well, almost), we are treated to some pantomime rewards including audience participation and a happy ending.

All the cast give the show 100% effort, and then some. Everyone gets a chance for a big number but it is in the ensemble work that that the show is at its most engaging. With a powerful voice up front and the rest of the cast singing harmony or providing beatbox percussion, some of the big numbers do really hit the spot. Kate Donnachie as Robyn, the mayor’s daughter, deserves her chance to change sides and join the workers and Alex Hardie as Tempo is a constant source of energy but all the cast deserve plaudits for the way that they work together to bring the story and the music to life.

Conrad Murray who is writer, co-director and performer – he plays the piper – has found a range of amusing ways to dramatise the tale. The ever present red eyes of the rats – and the occasional appearance of a radio-controlled rodent – are a lovely touch and the simple backdrop which conjures up the houses of Hamelin and provides a gallery to spread the action, work well. The stage is never still – there is always action.

My first love is opera and it was fascinating to see the Beatbox Collective use a very different way of telling a story through music. This piece is a comic fable and there are plenty of operas which that description could fit. And there are plenty of opera companies who could learn a thing or two about engaging with their audience from these performers. Another great night at Battersea Arts Centre.