Submit to Seefest 2024

Review: The Ratcatcher

Location Radost Theatre in Brno, Czech Republic
Date of PerformanceMay 22, 2024
LanguageCzech with English language surtitles
Photo by Jakub JíraJiří Skovajsa as Pied Piper.

Reviewed by  Amanda L. Andrei

Once upon a time, there was a small German town named Hamelin. When it became plagued by rats, the mayor sought to eliminate the pests, using cats, traps, and poison. Naturally, when these methods didn’t work, he called in the heavyweight hotshot: a skull-faced Mickey Mouse toting an empty sack and playing a mean recorder. 

That’s The Ratcatcher, a clever and intricate adaptation of the Pied Piper fairytale for ages 12 and up, produced by Divadlo Radost in cooperation with the French puppet company, Les Antliaclastes. Performed at the Theatre World Brno Festival, the story expands upon the original folktale with kooky, lush detail and a modern twist. 

Early on, the rats emerge from a massive dollhouse-like structure that doubles as the Hamelin neighborhood (designed by Patrick Sims, also director and puppeteer). Each compartment resembles a shadow box: some with miniature furniture, some with musical instruments, some simply plain with wallpaper or a human doll. There’s even a toilet with a cross-section of piping running down the side. The set’s playfulness contrasts against the sinister nature of a huge disease-ridden flea (played by Radim Sasínek) and the crafty mayor (Václav Vítek), each donning superb masks designed by Josephine Biereye. 

Radim Sasínek as Mayor. Photo by Jakub Jíra
Stanislava Havelková as Rat Girl. Photo by Jakub Jíra
Václav Vítek as Mayor. Photo by Jakub Jíra

But their sinister nature pales in comparison to the creepiness of the pied piper (Jiří Skovajsa), emanating cutthroat business ideals and greed. In the guise of the notorious Mouse and the specter of Death, he wears a jingling coat of suit ties and seduces the rats (and later, the children) with his music until they plop into his cloth sack and the musical mercenary hopes coins will fill his hand. On their way to death? As a modern fairytale crustacean would croon, “They in for a worser fate.”

As the friendly Rat Girl (Stanislava Havelková) cracks open the house-town with a wooden spoon, the German legend catapults into the satirical sci-fi world of Hamelin Laboratories, where the traitorous mayor—now referred to as Research Director—conducts bizarre experiments on rats and humans.

The exaggerated nature of the puppets (including a robotic feline and a chatty cheese wedge) keep the circumstances comic and cartoonish. Whereas older endings of the narrative focused on disability, death, or despair, Les Antliaclastes and Divadlo Radost take anxieties about the future and present them in a style that is refreshingly weird, thanks to its mashup of fairytale and mad science gone corporate.

There are a few opportunities for growth in the show. For instance, the bit of one rat turning rockstar is so amusing that it deserves an encore. And when the masked Rat Girl plays with unclothed baby dolls from a carriage, it’s unclear if they’re meant to represent living children or everyday toys, making it difficult to establish a sense of attachment for the figurines or their connections to the kidnapped children. These are minor details in an otherwise sensory-rich production and one aimed at adolescents. 

The concept could go the direction of George Orwell’s Animal Farm if the company so desired, transforming into a sharp fable about current economic and social conditions. But with a traditional tale already so piercingly macabre, and a Hamelin house-town-lab so lavishly constructed, sharp edges aren’t necessary to enhance the show’s quaint delight. Skeleton Mickey is plenty. 

More information about the Theatre World Brno 2024 Festival (May 17-28) is available here

Reviewer Amanda L. Andrei is a playwright, literary translator, theater critic, and community archivist residing in Los Angeles by way of Virginia/Washington D.C. She writes epic, irreverent plays that center the concealed, wounded places of history and societies from the perspectives of diasporic Filipina women, and she translates from Romanian and Filipino to English. For more information on her work and upcoming events, visit:


Not a member yet? Become an art patron with other SEEfest arthouse aficionados in support of great events and programs, as well as our mission to keep you informed about initiatives from our wide network of fellow cultural organizations.

We Welcome YOU!