Halloween's come early with this thin, spooky musical experiment from Duncan Sheik
The ‘ghost musical’ is a niche genre indeed. And this strange show composed by Duncan Sheik – he of ‘Spring Awakening’ and ‘American Psycho’ fame – doesn’t prove much of an addition to the category.
Set against the backdrop of World War Two, it sees a young boy moving into his aunt’s lighthouse in Maine, which is haunted by two would-be lovers whose ship sank nearby. He also stumbles into a tense triangle concerning a Japanese man harboured by the aunt, and a hardbitten sheriff whose anti-immigrant sentiments feel disturbingly resonant.
Adam Lenson’s atmospheric production features an impressive cast of West End regulars, including Simon Bailey and Niamh Perry as the ghosts, Dianne Pilkington as the aunt and Simon Lipkin as the sheriff. But their collective vocal prowess can’t save a dreary score that is disappointing next to Sheik’s other rock-infused work, and the inert lyrics of Kyle Jarrow (the line ‘you’d be better off dead’ is repeated so many times I began to believe it myself).
It’s a pity the material is so weak, because the production serving it is really quite impressive. A seven-strong band sound excellent in The Other Palace’s cosy confines, while designer Andrew Riley’s tiered, sunken stage nicely evokes the lighthouse setting. There’s some neat stagecraft too, with floating teacups and spooky projections emphasising the show’s other-worldliness.
New theatre The Other Palace has a commendable mission to unearth and nurture new and forgotten musicals. But there are much better offerings in the recent American canon than this, which premiered Stateside in 2010. Despite occasional glimpses of what could be a really interesting and original chamber piece, in the end ‘Whisper House’ is not a show worth shouting about.