A wafer-thin plot and repetitive, unremarkable score is the downfall of this horror story with songs. Whisper House features musical theatre royalty in bucket-loads, but bafflingly affords less than half an opportunity to open their mouth.
The setting’s a gothic lighthouse during WWII – inhabited by a limping woman, her enigmatic Japanese handyman and two lustful ghosts. The characters are full of ‘feeling’ (lust, fear or fury – for the most part), but nothing about them is fleshed out – it’s impossible to get to know or emphasise with given the running time. The staging is so stripped back that you really do wonder why it wasn’t billed as ‘semi-staged’. People walk around in a circle occasionally, and descend into a pit (when you struggle to see more than the top 1/3 of their body) but that’s pretty much where it ends.
I won’t beat around the bush: Whisper House really is all just a little bizarre. With a second half of just over 30 minutes, and the first not quite an hour, the material is so slight that – upon the curtain call – it’s pretty much impossible to feel satisfied that you’ve seen anything of substance.
The cast list is impressive but entirely under-utilised. Pilkington and Lipkin are royalty to musical theatre boffins but barely sing a note. I was waiting for a big Act II ballad from Dianne Pilkington, Glinda for a good few years and Donna Sheridan more recently, which (bafflingly) never materialised. Those who do, Simon Bailey and Niamh Perry as the ghosts, are working with such underwhelming and repetitive material that even their accomplished voices begin to grate after a while.
This material is, I believe, the crux of the problem. Duncan Sheik – of Spring Awakening fame – seems to have given all of his interesting and catchy melodies and arrangements over to the former (and perhaps the show which followed WH: American Psycho). Whisper House‘s score is just not that exciting, and certainly not memorable (I had no intention of purchasing the CD). Even the seven-piece band, who sound and look fantastic in the brilliant auditorium of The Other Palace, failed to inject much excitement into it – and I don’t think anyone can blame those musicians.
I left at a slight loss as to what the show wanted to be. A creepy horror story with songs (ie. the musical equivalent of Women in Black)? Not really…nothing about it is ‘scary’ enough. A semi-intelligent exploration of scapegoating? It just didn’t really achieve that either.
I’m fully supportive of the venue’s ambition to give new (and newish) musical theatre writing a platform, and it really is a gorgeous space and accompanying bar, but there’s got to be far better material out there than this. Surely?