BBC Radio 4, 26 December 2011
Susan Roberts' dramatized rendering of Robert Browning's famous poem
comprised several disparate elements. David Tennant played all the roles except one, employing a variety of
accents: a soft Scottish burr for themain body of the narrative, a complacent, slightly supercilious voice
for the Mayor, a nasal whine for the Pied Piper. The other role - that of the lame boy who was left behind (while all the
other children followed the Pied Piper) - was played by Bertie Gilbert. He sounded wistful - which was only
natural, as he would have wanted to join the others if only he had been fit enough.
The narrative was punctuated by frequent interventions from the
choir of Wingham School in Kent, playing the children of Hamelin. They were the Chorus (as in Greek drama), periodically
commenting on the action through song. When the poem described how the town has been infested with rats, we could
hear them in the background chanting "Rats! Rats!" in an incantatory manner. As the Pied Piper led them out of the town,
they sang a song in which the phrase "Auf Wiedersehen" was repeated several times.
Thomas Platts, head chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, provided another musical interlude, giving
vent to the lame boy's sense of yearning as he watched his friends leaving the city. Joyce Harle's lyrics seemed especially
poignant, with its description of the ambience "Hamelin is quiet, Hamelin is still," and its depiction of a sense of loss
"so many wishes, so many tears. Fare thee well, my friends."
The third important element in this production was John Harle's music, which provided
an aural background to the drama. The Pied Piper's entrance was signalled with the sound of a synthesizer, flutes and triangles,
suggesting that there was something strange about him. As he led the children out of the city, a single flute played
a quasi-oriental melody that was strongly reminiscent of a snake-charmer. Perhaps he really had managed to hypnotize the children.
In the production's final moments, as Tennant delivered the moral (make sure you keep your promises if you want to have a
quiet life), a single clarinet played a melancholy air, while the choir hummed in low voices.
Although only thirty minutes long, this version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin
was truly an aural experience worth remembering, with its combination of speech, music and lyrics. I fervently hope that Radio
4 will repeat it soon - perhaps in a better time-slot (rather than 11.30 in the morning).