Teatro Kismet from Bari in Italy, is heavily involved as co producers with Teresa Ludovico having adapted and directed this new play. Of course I am looking forward to seeing it next month in my home town at the Liverpool Playhouse, but I wanted to read the original book first, and a work colleague had a copy to lend me.
A young boy in a footmans outfit knocks on the door of an elderly couple, Bob and Joan, who have no children of their own. They welcome him out of the cold and feed him but he behaves strangely, chewing furniture and clothing, cheerfully stating 'I was a rat!'. The couple agree to look after him, calling him Roger, and take him to the doctor and to school, both ventures proving unsuccessful due to lack of understanding in others. Meanwhile the Prince has announced his engagement to Princess Aurelia, who Roger claims to know.
Roger's strange behaviour soon attracts the attention of various uncaring people who steal him away for profit. He becomes a circus freak show act, and then is kidnapped by a gang of theives, all of whom treat him cruelly. Bob and Joan try to search for him, knowing that his differences and trusting nature make him vulnerable, but only find him when he is portrayed in the newspapers as a monster to be destroyed. They enlist the help of the Princess, who does remember him, linking to another well known story (you will have to read it to find out which one).
A lot of this story is told through newspaper reports and illustrates the way something can quickly become distorted into gossip and hysteria as well as the triviality that surrounds celebrity. There are many useful themes in this book for children such as displacement, alienation, the cruelty of others, children in an adult world and a refusal to see the truth. The setting is a traditional fairy story town, with cobblers and palaces, but has very modern messages within it. There are illustrations and funny newspaper clippings to help the plot along with its many twists and turns, making this a very satisfying read. Every childrens tale needs a good villain and Mr and Mrs Tapscrew are a sinister pair from the circus (think Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) helping to give the story its dark side. There are a few other villains along the way too.
This is not Pullman's most famous book, but it has a loyal fan base nevertheless, and deservedly so.
I am really looking forward to seeing the stage adaptation when it comes to the Liverpool Playhouse in March.
Philip Pullman's website has a page on this book.
To read more about the I Was A Rat! theatre adaptation and tour use the link.