The Rat Affair – ‘Blurring The Lines Between Theatre and Gig’

RAT is a retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin through shadow puppetry and sounds influenced from Eastern Europe. We’re very excited that the rats have been let out of the bag and are currently bringing this highly accessible and invigorating experience to venues across the country. Developed and created by theatre maker / multi instrumentalist Louis King.

Puppet Place’s Martha King caught up with her brother Louis, along with puppeteer and visual designer Ailsa Dalling, to talk about the process behind RAT.

The Rat Affair 6 (Steve Tanner)
Photo by Steve Tanner

Hi Louis, can you tell us a bit about the show and why you chose this story?

Louis: RAT is a reimagining of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. We’re telling this story with shadow puppetry and live music, without the use of spoken word. As a musician I’ve always been interested in The Piper, and telling a story that features music at its heart was an exciting challenge to take on.

Some of the themes present in the story include responsibility, migration, deceit and political corruption. One of the first questions we asked ourselves when exploring the story was “who are the rats?” During our first week of development, the world was in the middle of an immigration crisis. You may remember Katie Hopkins described those arriving to European shores as “vermin” – this greatly influenced our thought process when making RAT. While immigration is still an unsolved problem in our world, times have moved on, and we now find ourselves surrounded by incredibly powerful politicians; the Mayor Character in our story is very much of this ilk.

And so by exploring the “rat” in our society, we have turned a children’s fable about paying one’s dues, into a current and relevant political allegory for our times.

The Rat Affair 1 (John Freddy Jones)
Photo by John Freddy Jones

The music is very central in RAT. What influenced you musically and were there any changes made in terms of a traditional theatre experience due to the musicality in the piece?

Louis: When exploring the history of The Pied Piper and it’s origins, there are various theories about where the children were taken. The most prominent of these is that they were taken to Eastern Europe, in particular Poland and Romania. And so as a band we have been exploring Klezmer and traditional Jewish tunes. This style of music has informed much of the score written for RAT.

However, because of the instrumentation in The Rat Affair we were able to explore other genres such as soul and funk. And so the music is essentially a whirlwind of styles all mixed up together. It’s a weird pitch to have a folky number with accordion and violin followed by a full on soul track with electric piano and tenor sax, but it weirdly works very well!

Applying this to the story of The Pied Piper is a whole other beast. I wouldn’t say that we have changed the traditional theatre experience, but I would say that we are blurring the lines between theatre and gig. And arguably, rather than challenging theatre, we are most likely challenging the form of how live music is presented.

The Rat Affair 3 (Sam J Burdall)
Photo By Sam J Burdall

Ailsa, what is your puppetry background and have you had to adapt your technique to fit with the storytelling in RAT?

Ailsa: I trained at the Curious School of Puppetry under Sarah Wright in 2016. Shadow Puppetry and projection were a module on the course, which I found very inspiring at the time. In particular, the teachings of Steve Tiplady and Liz Walker. Since then I have continued to experiment with those techniques and combined it with my background as an artist. For example, in RAT, I am using Lino-prints as part of the aesthetic and visual language of the show.

As a puppeteer in theatre the majority of my work is using rod and table top puppets, so it has been interesting developing RAT over the last two years as it’s all shadow puppetry. Although the same basic principles still apply, the puppets are all 2D and mostly made of paper, which in itself is a new skillset to work with.


This show is visually so important as there is no use of language. Can you tell us a bit about the decision behind this and the challenges you faced when telling the story through images?

Ailsa: The choice not to use language, spoken or written, was something that was decided very early on in the RAT development process. We wanted to make a show that was accessible for all audiences; the story of the Pied Piper crops up in many different cultures and is told all over the world. We hope that in our telling, in bringing together different styles from across Europe in both the music and visuals, we weave the current political climate into this story.

The challenge in not using words has meant that we have had to really develop the visual language within the show. It has surprised me how often I’ve been tempted to put words in but pushing past that I’ve found some of my favourite images. The music and sound design have to tell the emotional journey of the characters just as much as the visuals, which is more common in film. Sivert Christensen, our director, is a filmmaker which has been really interesting when it comes to deciding how we visually tell the story. We talk a lot in rehearsals about where the ‘camera’ is and how we as puppeteers can lead the audience’s eyes to what they need to see.

What’s next for The Rat Affair, have you any ideas for future projects?

Louis: We will tour RAT over the next month or so, and start thinking about a second bigger tour in 2021. The Rat Affair also perform as just a band and we will be playing a lot this Summer in venues and various festivals across the UK.

Moving forward I think the whole company will come together again at some point to make new work but at the moment it’s not entirely clear. There is talk of turning this show into a short film, using the artwork designed by Ailsa Dalling, so maybe that will be the next project?!

The Rat Affair 2 (Sam J Burdall)
Photo by Sam J Burdall

Interview with Martha King

RAT will be shown at The Loco Klub, Bristol, on the 8th March. Click here for tickets.

For other tour dates and information visit or @therataffair

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