Rat King at The Hope Theatre

rat king is a beautifully written two-hander by Bram Davidovich about the relationship between new runaway Kelly and homeless Jacko. There is an appealing lyricism to the piece that doesn’t detract from the sense of realness in the story being told. Davidovich’s writing has an exquisite richness and poetry that I really loved.

Melker Nilsson plays the artistic and resourceful Jacko, who has made a make-shift home for himself in a derelict building. He scavenges the things he needs to survive and create, even as dangers lurk around him. Matilda Childs plays Kelly, a 16 year old girl from a comfortable home with mental health issues (not specified beyond her habit of not taking her medication, and becoming paranoid as a result), who feeling suffocated in her life decides to run away. There is a wonderful, eloquent scene in which Childs captures Kelly’s longing to reconnect with the land. Kelly and Jacko meet when he saves her from trouble. Kelly wants Jacko to teach her how to survive in his world, promising never to leave him. Suffice it to say, things do not go according to plan.

Director Dan Philips, brings out both the chemistry and tension between Kelly and Jacko. There is a welcome ambiguity in the piece regarding what is real vs lies. Is Kelly in genuine danger, or is Jacko pretending so he can keep her with him? Or is Kelly’s paranoia about Jacko a result of being off her medication again? Both Nilsson and Childs give sensitive and authentic performances.

This is an in-development piece, with Davidovich looking to expand the play further, and I think there is scope to do so, particularly in terms of seeding the journey to the final scene. There is a clarity in the piece regarding how Jacko helps Kelly, but while she ultimately has a positive influence on him too, it isn’t apparent how or why. That sense of balance is missing which would help the ending fit more organically. Frankly, Kelly seems like a spoilt and entitled brat, who doesn’t grasp how privileged she is to have a safety net, while Jacko doesn’t. He can’t simply go home when it all gets too much. Childs’ performance is so convincing I felt genuine anger towards Kelly when she turns on Jacko, an anger stoked by the fact that Nilsson makes him such a sympathetic character.

It is a privilege to see this paired back version of the play, which is an accomplished piece in and of itself, but I can’t deny being excited that Davidovitch is looking to develop it further. rat king is running at The Hope Theatre until Saturday 9th October. To find out more or book tickets you can go here: https://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/rat-king/

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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