A young boy turns up on the doorstep of a poor, aging couple one night. “I Was A Rat,” is all he can say. And it seems that he was. Thus begins a new adaptation of Philip Pullman’s modern fairy tale, adapted and directed by Teresa Ludovico, that sees protagonist Roger – an ingenuous boy whose trusting nature leads him from one scrape to another – thrust into a world inhabited by people quick to exploit and condemn the transformed rodent.

Along the way he meets a series of grotesques who wouldn’t be out of place in a Monty Python or Psychoville sketch. It’s all very fast and knockabout and enjoyable. There are moments of action, threat, sadness, broad comedy and thrilling physicality and everything’s alright in the end, despite some dark notes.

Fox Jackson-Keen is very strong as the titular ratboy – very gauche and energetic – but it’s Tyrone Huggins and Lorna Gayle as the couple who take Roger in who get all the best moments and are the audience’s key identification figures. The rest of the cast are very versatile too, but it was often hard to tell one from the other as they’re frequently hidden behind masks.

The Ludovico technique is to throw everything at the wall. It’s often engaging, it never sags and there are fearsome talents on display. But it’s hard to invest much in the characters when there’s little room for the play to breathe – and to put flesh on the bones of the leads. There is a cast of, perhaps, 50 played by eight actors. It’s brilliantly done but the pace of the thing can be bemusing.

Sometimes all the ingredients are there and it doesn’t quite stack up. There is dance here as there is impressive live music; but there’s mime and physicality and awesome design and some minimal, but charming, special effects. I Was A Rat! seemed a bit incoherent at times and the tone – comedic, horrific, charming and tear-jerking from one moment to the next – was somewhat jarring.

It’s a whirlwind journey; there’s a lot to enjoy – and a genuine joie de vivre to it all – but the finished product is somehow less than the sum of its parts.

I Was A Rat!
Liverpool Playhouse
Until 23 March

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