When a new musical opens with a song entitled ‘Better to be Dead’, you know it’s probably not going to be a tap dancing/happy tunes kind of show. Whisper House, written by Kyle Jarrow, Duncan Sheik and conceived by Keith Powell, is a gothic rock chamber musical that doesn’t fail to pack a punch.
Young Christopher is forced to go and live with his estranged Aunt, and her Club foot, in a creepy Maine lighthouse during the Second World War. It’s an era of paranoia and xenophobia as enemy aliens are rounded up and sent to detention camps. Christopher is torn between the Aunt he barely knows and the Sheriff (he barely knows) because Aunt Lily is hiding a ‘Jap’ in the attic.
Aunt Lily has another secret, she is responsible for a decades old tragedy, and the ghosts of two lovers now haunt the lighthouse and its surroundings, causing upset and mischief, all while belting out some serious rock tunes.
Directed by Adam Lenson, Whisper House has been staged with a flair of originality, the towering lighthouse is represented by a sunken stage that is extremely effective. You can almost feel the bracing cold wind of the Atlantic as waves crash in the background and the stage is bathed in blue light and smoke. The ghosts sprinkle their own magic on proceedings with little snippets of trickery that are definitely visually engaging.
The score is good, but it sometimes felt a little slow to get going, and some ensemble numbers seemed to jar a little. Simon Lipkin turns in a faultless performance as the Sheriff and Niamh Perry also delivers as the female ghost. It isn’t really until the very last song that you get a sense of the energy that’s been missing thus far.
It’s a fairly short hour and a half and while there’s less ‘horror’ than I expected, Whisper House is a beautifully written musical with a superb score that looks great the way it’s been staged.