“That doesn’t look good,
it doesn’t bode well, kid”
The reinvention of the St James Theatre into The Other Palace continues, but with the curious choice of another US musical, this time the European premiere of Whisper House, written by Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow. Curious because it is an oddity of a show that rarely makes the case for its place in this new home for developing musical theatre, heaven knows there’s British musicals aplenty that would have benefited from this slot in the programme.
For Adam Lenson’s production certainly tries its creative best with the material. Andrew Riley’s circular design is an arresting and inventive use of the space, projections are thrown onto the back wall to transport us to Maine in the midst of the Second World War, illusions attempt to conjure the supernatural. But the problem lies in a story that is far too slight and a pop-rock score that is jauntily loud for something trying to be a ghost story.
Young Christopher finds himself shipped off to his unfriendly lighthouse-keeper Aunt Lily when his fighter-pilot father is killed and his distraught mother ends up in the asylum. She’s got a club foot and so has Yasuhiro a friendly Japanese man helping her out about the place but at a time of heightened tensions both with that nation and with his aunt, and having his nascent patriotism nurtured by the local sheriff who’s kicking out all the foreigners, Christopher brashly steps into danger.
Because the lighthouse is haunted of course, by two nameless ghosts. Who don’t do much of anything but narrate through song and produce a fair few magic tricks. Their story does eventually get told, along with the unfolding of the main narrative, but it’s all rather bloodless, being at such a remove from the main action means they’re neither scary nor interesting. They are however well sung by Simon Bailey and Niamh Perry, they’re just deserving of better material.
And there’s strong work from Dianne Pilkington as the irascible Aunt Lily and Simon Lipkin’s solid sheriff, both imbuing character where they can. But the lack of lyrical or musical subtlety means that there’s nothing haunting here apart from the price of the food upstairs.