4 September 2016
It was about this time last year that I was hearing fabulous reports of a show at the Edinburgh Festival called Love Birds that had caught the imagination of the Festival’s musical theatre fans, and so it was with interest that I went along on Sunday evening to listen to Lovebird’s composer Robert J Sherman’s new score for a musical called Bumblescratch.
Set in London during the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666, the plot of Bumblescratch centres around Melbourne Bumblescratch, a bit of a dodgy character and a young rat he befriends called Perry. It’s a story of redemption, friendship and self-discovery, but it’s also a deeply flawed musical that had me scratching my head a bit.
Melbourne Bumblescratch is played by Darren Day, it’s an enormous role as Melbourne appears in 28 of the numbers (90% of the production). Day makes a full fist of the character using every ounce of his charm and charisma to sell Melbourne to the audience and succeeds in bounds. His wife, the incomparable Jessica Martin plays Bethesda, Melbourne’s wife. Her erratic tirades were a delight. Michael Xavier made two substantial appearances as Hookbeard, a piratical character that seemed to appear in dreams, and whilst Michael gave his all, it was a character that seemed largely irrelevant. Jacob Chapman commanded the stage as Socrates, the king rat, his vocal prowess perfectly suited his majestic status in the plot.
The biggest impact of the evening came from the smallest cast member. Ilan Galkoff as Perry, took the role of Perry and showed that he is a major theatre star in the making. Definitely, one to keep an eye on.
Tom Kelly’s musical supervision and direction of the show’s band keep the pace of the evening brisk, it was great to watch the band play Rowland Lee’s orchestrations. However, a superb cast and stunning band, don’t cover up the fact that the show itself is seriously lacking.
Bumbelscratch though, is a piece that troubles me. Firstly in terms of its audience. The scene where a young rate devours the dead body of a whore told me it certainly isn’t intended for children. So, would an adult audience be prepared to sit through a morality tale involving rats? Last year’s Duncton Wood, directed by Michael Strassen seemed to indicate they might.
As it stands the score is far too dense and thematically all over the place, the plot far too complex and several characters seemingly irrelevant. Once I got home after the show, I digested the shows two and a half pages of plot in the programme, and I found it all thoroughly convoluted. As a first public outing, it’s not bad, but there’s a long way to go until this show is ready for any further public outing. I would suggest that several more workshops might have been in order before the work was presented in on such a scale this time around.
As a colleague noted on the night, rats are a considerably harder sell than love birds! He might be right!