Friday, December 06, 2013

Hatch: an eggcellent musical alternative to Christmas pantomime at the MAC (until 5 January)

Hatch packs an energetic adaption of The Ugly Duckling into a two hour show that runs in the MAC until 5 January. Patrick J O’Reilly’s adapting and directing together with Katie Richardson’s composing deliver a colourful Christmas musical allegory that steers clear of becoming a yah boo pantomime.

Starting with a couple of French rats, the versatile cast of six also play ducks, hens, a pig, a fox, a cat, an old woman, some children. It’s quite a physical performance and choreographer Jennifer Rooney has the cast doing acrobatic tumbles and running around on all fours as well as more traditional animal dancing.

Different animal species adopt an assorted array of European accents, with a few broad Belfast drawls thrown in. And lots of quacking. Masks, accessories along with hand gestures and facial expressions help distinguish between the farmyard characters. Watch out for the chicks in their Madonna-inspired costumes!
Is he just a waste of feathers? … You’re different, not like us, you’re not welcome here … You don’t fit in here.
Children – and some adults – will find themselves caught up in the emotion. My daughter observed that “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house” during some of the final scenes. While there are many laughs, a dark and sad mood hangs over Hatch.

The blame for that lies with the pen of Hans Christian Andersen rather than Patrick J O’Reilly. Sibling rivalry and bullying leads to discrimination and ostrichisation ostracisation, low self esteem, running away, a quest for beauty, and false hopes. There’s a large dose of fear: fear of the other, fear of the outsider and fear of what looks different.
I’m me and that’s all I can be.
It’s a Christmas show, but Hatch’s imaginary setting has unavoidable parallels with Northern Ireland and questions how well – or poorly – we treat newcomers and welcome them into communities. Whether thinking about immigration, mixed relationships in one-sided communities, or the treatment of the LGB community, there’s a poignancy to the MAC’s timely choice of story this Christmas. But back to the show ...
Just for one day I won’t be afraid of the night … I won’t have to fight.
As a child I was mesmerised by the lighting in theatres. Hatch doesn’t disappoint in that regard with slender spotlight beams giving height to the relatively low level set which is neither flat nor regular. A long ramp provides a vantage point for learning to fly and separates the front staging from the live band standing at the back. For once it’s a set and a performance that doesn’t rely on video projection and ambient music. While it’s unlikely that any of the lyrics or tunes will live on beyond the run of the show, Katie Richardson & her Carnivals are superb playing live with a mix of drums, guitars, woodwind, synths, party horns and a little vocal augmentation for ensemble numbers. [There's an extended interview with composer and musical director Katie Richardson on The Thin Air.]

While hard to avoid if adapting The Ugly Duckling, the enormous number of well drawn characters in Hatch nearly becomes a burden with many only appearing briefly, making a quick impression before being dispatched off the stage, never to return to the plot. A smaller number of characters would have been less emotionally draining.

If anything, the ending snuck up on me too quickly without quite enough time to warm my heart and savour the revelation of freedom being granted and freedom being taken. The finale is touching but rushed, and left me feeling that the ever-so-slightly depressing narrative overshadows the all too fleeting ray of sunshine at the end.

Families with young and pre-teen children sitting around me at last night’s performance loved the show. Youngsters in the front row, inches away from the stage, jumped up and down with glee. With twelve shows a week until early January, Hatch is a great alternative to a cheesy pantomime. (Tickets still available for the matinee on Christmas Eve if you want a treat.)

So gather up your feathers and waddle down to the MAC to conquer your inner ugly duckling and enjoy a home-grown, well-crafted musical in a terrific venue. Ticket prices start at £9.50.

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