Melly Still is directing Carol Ann Duffy's Rats' Tales - the Royal Exchange Theatre's Christmas production which opens later this month. We had a quick chat to find out more about this furry, festive treat.



What do you think is important when you’re creating a show for Christmas?
It’s a time of year that draws an audience of regular theatregoers and non-theatregoers alike. School parties might enjoy an annual treat; grandparents might treat the whole family. Offering a treat is what I think is important. To everyone. This show is essentially for adults to experience with or without their children and for children to enjoy with friends or with adults. For ages 8 to 108!  

How did the show come about?
I worked with Carol Ann on a show called Beasts & Beauties at Hampstead Theatre last year. The show consisted of Carol Ann’s retelling of some classic European fairy tales. This show goes further – it combines 4 existing folk tales with some original stories by Carol Ann – a particularly exciting mix.

What is the show about?
It’s inspired by the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin - Carol Ann wanted to write a version of it and relate it to other tales involving rats – an unpicking if you like of our relationship with rats. But another more pressing theme began to emerge, especially when we included in our mix a collection of stories by Carol Ann called The Stolen Childhood. The theme linking these stories is as the title suggests, stolen childhood. It is as much about growing old – one of the reasons why this is a show for adults as well as for children – as about children literally disappearing or the sometimes painful, at other times hilarious transition from childhood to adulthood.

Can you tell us anything about the style of the production?
It’s as if a troupe of players from Hamelin (2 musicians and 8 actors) have decided to travel the world and tell their story. Perhaps they are the once lost children. The Pied Piper is the lead story and at the end, the villagers are left to dwell in grief and remorse. They have only memories and reflections, which they toy with through the sharing of tales. The unfolding dramas have an unexpected effect: the villagers are touched by the stories, quietly and gradually transformed from grief stricken to embracing joy once more. Anna Fleischle’s deceptively simple design means that magical moments will be plucked from the simplest of objects, abandoned toys of the missing children. The stories are told with whatever comes to hand, and with whatever device or method most suits the story, be it raucous, irreverent or mysterious. There’ll be live music that will be as eclectic as the collection of stories. Dave Price our composer is a connoisseur of all things percussive and more – a pianist, a piper, a technophile and a tinkler.



Rats' Tales is at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester from 29 November - 12 January.