Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy brings eight short stories to life in this theatre-in-the-round, with rats and the theme of stolen childhood at their core. The production, aimed at adults and children, begins with a literal example of lost childhood with the stage version of Duffy’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin story and the dark-bespectacled piper bursts into the centre like a rock star.

A funny rendition is underpinned by the devastating disappearance of the town’s children – seemingly lost forever to their families. After the grief comes more drama, as we hear stories The Stolen Childhood, A Little Girl, The Changeling, Invisible, Wooden Maria, The Squire’s Bride and The Lost Happy Endings.

The various themes centre around the importance of children, the depths of bonds between parents and offspring, the strength of maternal instincts, branching out into the world away from family ties and how character can be influenced by relationships during childhood. And it says all this with great energy, comedy and emotion. It is haunting in places, hilarious in others.

Eight outstanding actors leave no stone unturned in each character they play throughout the production, stretching even to rats, geese and goblins. The addition of young children on stage from schools in Greater Manchester is the cherry on top. They bring their youth, voices, a carnival-like atmosphere, and they even bring the tears.

The stage craft is simple, slick, effective and ingenious. As for the piece itself it's full of surprises. The stories are concluded with a sketch which brings together the fairytale concept of the production. But will there be a happy ending? You’ll have to see for yourself to find out.

Carol Ann Duffy’s stories are dramatised and directed by Melly Still who injects pace and vitality to the piece and as result - Rats' Tales is unmissable. 

- Claire Smith