Resources are rarely an issue at the RSC, and so it proves with this lavish, expensive production of this year’s Christmas show. On the face of it, the money spent on sets, costumes and on-stage six-piece band appears to be money well spent, with a strong design by Angela Davies and some superb musicianship on display.
But scratch the surface of this knockabout extravaganza and you find... well, not very much at all, actually. The original 1968 kids’ book by Russell Hoban, on which this new production is based, is not exactly a children’s classic, and anyone unfamiliar with it – as I was, despite four offspring of both varieties – may struggle to keep up. It’s the tale of a tin clockwork mouse and his son, permanently joined together and constantly wide-eyed at the wonders of the world. The innocent pair are separated from their toy shop friends and subsequently face a terrifying journey through the harsh realities of life at the hands of villainous rat Manny and his grubby crew as they struggle to find their way back home.
But the journey is episodic in the extreme, and the episodes too disparate and unengaging to make a cohesive whole, while any sense of emotional investment is lost on two lifeless characters who are, quite literally, dependent on everyone around them to activate them. Such passivity is disastrous to the central story, which ends up as a kind of parade of clever routines showing off the talents of the spirited cast and technical experts without really hooking its audience.
Director Paul Hunter works some visual magic with Tamsin Oglesby’s tepid script and many of the performances are appealing, most notably Daniel Ryan and Bettrys Jones as the Mouse and Child themselves. In fairness, there are plenty of laughs to be found by the under-tens, but there may also be a lingering sense of dissatisfaction – like the memory of the transient charms of an interval choc ice.