Saturday May 6, 2017 7:30PM @ The Other Palace, London
Cast: Dianne Pilkington, Simon Bailey, Niamh Perry, Simon Lipkin, Nicholas Goh
Whisper House is a brand new musical by Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik, and follows the life of a young boy Christopher who is sent to live with his Aunt after his father dies and his mother is taken ill. Set in an eerie lighthouse, strange things begin to happen for Christopher and Aunt Lily (Dianne Pilkington). It is revealed that a crashed ship left it its wake two singers who fell in love and are now haunting the lighthouse for reasons revealed during the show’s climatic second act twist.
So honestly, I enjoyed the show. It’s great that The Other Palace’s (previously know at the St. James Theatre) initiative is to present new musical theatre to the heart of London’s theatre scene – which I find it always does lack, for example, last year’s Miss Atomic Bomb (running at this venue and starring Whisper House‘s Simon Lipkin) was a riot and I thought deserved a longer run as opposed to a limited engagement. This show is a very different vibe to the lighthearted Catherine Tate-led musical comedy however.
The story itself is okay, although I couldn’t help but feel that is was a little empty. A lot of things happen, but simultaneously, didn’t. Some musicals do fall into the trap of everything happening so much so, that nothing actually happens – if that makes any kind of sense – it does to me anyway! I also felt it could have done without the intermission. Each act was 45 minutes, so why not do a 90-minute straight through?
For the most part, I enjoyed the music. I was apprehensive going in because I don’t care an awful lot about Sheik’s Spring Awakening, I mean its fine, but overrated in my opinion. The score blends top-tapping and soft rock to fully express the eerie nature of the two ghosts, which, with the exception of a few moments, are the only characters that sing – but when the vocals are by Simon Bailey (fresh from closing London’s Jersey Boys) and Niamh Perry there is no need to complain. Bailey and Perry work so well together, their harmonies and natural love for the material they were presenting made it hard for me to draw my attention anywhere else.
And the rest of the cast are exceptional as they ever are. I wasn’t too bothered about seeing the show until they announced this cast – I knew then I had to book. Dianne Pilkington is a wonder as Aunt Lily. My first Glinda (in Wicked), I haven’t seen Dianne on stage since Mamma Mia! a few years ago, and she is still on top form. It’s her acting that’s really laid bear for the audience – and she’s an extraordinary actress, methodically transforming into her character its hard to believe it’s been 10 years since I saw her fly in by bubble for the first time. The role is emotionally taxing, and Pilkington’s performance is exceptionally torn and intense.
Another stand-out, as always, is Simon Lipkin. Literally whatever this man does, it still manages to make me smile – weather that be Guys and Dolls, Rock of Ages, I Can’t Sing! or any other shows I’ve seen him in. Lipkin has such a natural, charming stage presence and he is just hysterical, although this time it’s his dramatic acting chops that are at the forefront (although his anecdote about ghost stories being like a lasagna was pretty funny!). Lipkin commands the stage as Sheriff Charles and bounces off the other actors with ease as he always does. My favourite comedic actor in the West End and I always look forward to what he’s going to do next!
Usually I don’t really talk too much about lighting and stage, but it was very much apart of the show – the effects, illusions and lighting were very well done and never felt odd or out of place. I particularly enjoyed the set and the staging. The actors filled the whole of the small space with great movement direction in moments in which Bailey and Perry would control what the other characters were doing. In these moments it really felt like an ensemble piece between the six actors which I love to see. The set is minimal with the band on-stage but it created a concert like atmosphere which blended well with the subject matter. The lighthouse was represented by three platforms on stage – with the platforms getting lower into the ground the more central stage it was which was a really cool concept – the set of a show usually not as exciting to me as the material or cast, but when its an unique as this it stands out – I loved it.
So overall, it’s an okay show that’s worth a watch particularly for the final scenes which were the best in the show – the cast do the best job with the material they have to work with, it’s just that you might come away thinking exactly that: the cast are so great that they happen to be superior to the show itself.
Whisper House runs at The Other Palace until May 27.
If you enjoyed this review, please check out my personal blog of theatre-y randomness, at https://stageytheatrelife.wordpress.com/