Bumblescratch is a new musical by Robbie Sherman which held a gala night at the Adelphi Theatre on the 4th September.
The show is set during the Great Plague and the Fire of London and is told from the point of view of the London rat, in particular Melbourne Bumblescratch. Melbourne befriends a young rat named Perry who helps him to see the error of his ways. In the mix however is the rat king, Socrates who is after Melbourne, Melbourne’s long suffering fiancé, Bethesda and Hookbeard, an apparition due to Melbourne’s consumption of bad cheese.
The gala night of Bumblescratch was gifted with a talented cast. Darren Day took the title role of Bumblescratch who essentially holds the whole show together. Out of the 37 songs in Bumblescratch he appears in 28 of them! Darren Day is a natural in the part of the cheeky cockney rat and is easily likeable on stage. I was equally impressed with his voice, especially when it came to his epiphany number ‘Music of the Spheres.’ Michael Xavier adds to the musical theatre clout of Bumblescratch playing Hookbeard. Unfortunately we don’t see (or hear) nearly enough of him but when we do his rich tones suit the part of a (rat) legend. Xavier’s and Day’s duet ‘I Cannot Hear You,’ although a bit panto, was one of the highlights of the show.
Young Perry was played by Ilan Galkoff. Galkoff embodied the inquisitive and headstrong rat well. You can tell he has an illustrious list of previous credits to his name as he danced and sang his way around the Adelphi stage without putting a foot or note out of place despite the short rehearsal period for the cast. Jessica Martin played Berthesda/Widow MacGregor however it appeared that she was on the verge of losing her voice. Consequently this meant it was difficult to really see what she was made of, especially as her opening number ‘Melbourne Bumblescratch,’ required a large amount of belting.
The ensemble added to the feel brilliantly, taking on various ratty parts when required. They also all performed the clever chorography well and really embraced the rat like qualities within the dance set.
Despite the strength of the cast the material they were given let them down. At times the story was slow to develop and it felt like the plot only picked up pace immediately before the interval. There was also some difficulties with the lyrics in that there was little subtly in them. For example some of the key plot points such as Hookbeard being in Melbourne’s head as a result of bad cheese was literally spelt out to the audience. This could have been revealed to the audience in a more intelligent way. If future developments are to take place around Bumblescratch then some more thought needs to be given to more interesting ways to signpost the major plot points.
The show was also billed as a musical-comedy however there were few points in the show which caused audible laughter. The underlying themes of the show, reinvention, death and a higher being are all fairly weighty issues and as a result the comedy is difficult to sandwich in. When comedy was achieved it often felt a bit pantomime reminding me of Dick Whittington and King Rat.
As already mentioned there was a grand total of 37 songs with very little of it being reprised. Even for a sung through show this felt like too many and diluted some of the stronger numbers such as Music of the Sphere, My Place in the Sun and We Will Live to Be Free. It also meant that rather than leaving humming a refrain from the show the audience are left looking at the list of the songs struggling to remember each one.
There clearly is a need for British new musicals to be developed, Bumblescratch being one of these. Whilst there was a previous workshop production in 2013 it felt as if the Adelphi stage was one step too far too soon. Bumblescratch is a show with potential but one where further development was needed before it was shown to a West End audience.
Thanks to TheatreBloggers for arranging the outing.
Why not check out my preview piece of Love Birds, another of Robbie Sherman’s musicals.