Review: Whisper House (The Other Palace) ***

Playing at the newly reopened The Other Palace, Whisper House is a rock opera meets ghost story. However, there isn’t much to shout or whisper about it. Perhaps the show is best described by its very name: a whisper house. There are some hauntingly beautiful melodies here, a ghost of a plot there but one which is neither corporeal nor substantial.

Lily has lived at the light house since she was a child. As she looks out to sea, she’s reminded of days spent with her brother…and some other memories she’d rather forget. But when her nephew Christopher comes to stay, these secrets won’t stay hidden much longer. In a house full of ghosts of the past, some are bound to whisper louder than others…

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The Cast of Whisper House. Photo credit: Johan Persson

As the show itself asserts, it is one of layers crafted by Kyle Jarrow. It’s a ghost story, within a ghost story, so and so forth. Yet with so many layers, nothing actually happens. The first half is pure exposition, in both songs and script. While some of this is necessary, you don’t need 50 minutes dedicated to setting up a world which we will only experience for 40 minutes in the second half. The tempo does pick up in the second half, though this climaxes in a somewhat disappointing and rushed ending. Sometimes ghosts get the ending wrong, and sometimes writers do too. That being said, there are some themes which are well expressed, speaking in particular to a post-Brexit and Trump audience of the day. Christopher learns acceptance as the show goes on, a feeling perhaps to be impressed upon the advertised audience of 8+. And boy does this feels like an 8+ show at points, yet there were no children at the performance.

Fortunately, Duncan Sheik weaves his magic and breathes life to this ghost story. ‘The Tale of Solomon Snell’ and ‘Better of Dead’ will stick in your head, and there are whisperings of Spring Awakening here and there. Adam Lenson’s staging of a song about rewinding in particular is beautiful. I can’t help but feel, however, that this song would have been better utilised as a plot device in the second half. After an exposition heavy opening, the last thing I want to do is rewind. If ghosts do get the ending wrong, maybe we could rewind and see how it was supposed to play out…

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Simon Bailey (Male Ghost), Fisher Costello Rose (Christopher), and Niamh Perry (Female Ghost). Photo Credit: Johan Persson

The centre of the stage doubles for lighthouse and sea, in a simple but evocative design. A gaping hole in the floor, as smoke begins to rise out of it you can’t help but be drawn into its depths. In a play with musical ghosts it seems a bit of a shame not to have more interaction between these characters and the orchestra, who are seated on stage. Simon Bailey and Niamh Perry play the ghosts and these actors are definitely kindred spirits; their voices complementing each other beautifully, you wholly believe their connection. Dianne Pilkington plays stern but sympathetic Aunt Lily, while Simon Lipkin brings some laughs as patriotic and protective sheriff. Both he and Nicholas Goh as Yasuhiro seem massively under-utilised, although I would’ve liked to see more chemistry between Goh and Pilkington.

While an enjoyable night out, this show won’t haunt your dreams or nightmares. A tad forgettable, save for some catchy songs.

Whisper House plays until 27 May 2017 at The Other Palace. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Other Palace website.

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