After the huge success of a musical about Cats, you could sort of understand why one centred around the lives of rats might not be such a radical idea – right? Let’s just say that, after seeing this show, you might actually want to set the former upon the latter – theatrically speaking.
Darren Day plays the eponymous Melbourne Bumblescratch- a commitment phobic cheeky chappy (or should that be ratty) who, for reasons not quite explained, likes to steal jewels. He has a side-kick, an orphaned rat called Perry, who is sort of like an Artful Dodger to his Fagin – although, in this instance, nothing as exciting as pick-pocketing happens, it’s really just a bunch of rats doing not all that much. The musical is (kind of) set against the backdrop of the plague, culminating with Great Fire of London but it feels as though Robert J Sherman has worked back from that point and padded out, rather than given us a compelling story that builds up to it (when the actual fire hits us, we don’t really care). And that’s one of the biggest issues with this musical- the book is incredibly weak and so much happens, in terms of jumping from obscure plot point to plot point that it’s hard to work out what is actually going on.
Moments that could be incredibly tender lose their impact through lack of exploration. There is a human,Thamesa, who rather randomly, becomes integral to the story – having befriended Perry and yet we are only privy to this interaction after the relationship has already become established. Why she felt the need to become friends with a rat in the first place is never explained, neither are the rules of this fictitious universe, that is centred around a real historical event, yet allows humans to speak directly to rats (granted – it is a musical, so the imagination can be stretched but it is still rather bizarre watching a young girl declare her love for an underage rodent and have the rodent return her affections in some sort of common language). This is further problematic in that the only way we know that a character is a rat is that they have a piece of string is attached to their costume – if humans and rats are able to communicate then it is confusing as to what species a character is meant to be.
Original music (also) by Robert J Sherman suffers from a lack of uniformity – at times we feel like we are in the midst of something Les Miserable-esque and then everything goes a bit Disney. There isn’t very much of a theme and, much like the plot, the music is all over the place. Despite this, it is worth mentioning that the songs themselves – although mostly forgettable – are also fun, somewhat interesting and pleasing to the ear.
The cast has done a decent job, bearing in mind that there has only been a two week rehearsal period and this is not the easiest of shows to navigate through. What really elevates the piece, though, is the tremendous performance by 13-year-old Ilan Galkoff in the role of Perry – he has a terrific voice, brings a level of sophistication and sensitivity, an air of confidence and a commanding stage presence.
It is always worth commending an original book musical that comes to full fruition but, unfortunately, much like the Great Fire of London, Bumblescratch is a bit of a disaster.
A charity gala performance reviewed on4 September 2016 | Image: Peter Jones