BE afraid, be very afraid.

The Royal Exchange has gone over to the dark side for its seasonal offering written by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Rats’ Tales is a bold and brave production taking a series of traditional fairy tales and turning them into a genuine theatrical experience.

It’s about as far removed from the sugar sweet world of the traditional panto as you could possibly get. if you want to sing along and shout ‘behind you’ there are plenty of options this Christmas.

But it’s unlikely you’ll see many festive shows which make you think, are genuinely scary in parts and yet will bring out the child in every adult like this one.

Rats’ Tales is not for very young children - I’d say eights and over - or adults who are easily frightened for that matter. By sticking to the true nature of many traditional tales, an air of menace often lurks not far from the surface.

The Pied Piper of Hamyln, looking like Nick Cave with a tin whistle, would give the infamous Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a run for his money in the spooky stakes and the screams of children after a witch steals all the happy endings from their bedtime stories are genuinely chilling.

But, and this is where director Melly Still and the ensemble cast deserve great credit, the stories are absorbing, engaging and ultimately rewarding - and yes, most of them do end happily ever after.

Staging is kept to a minimum but much invention is shown in creating disappearing shadows, bewitched forests and mountain paths. Plasma screens drop down for specially shot video sections and a live duo perform some atmosphere-enhancing accompaniment.

An air of expectation always surrounds the Christmas production at the Royal Exchange and once again it has gone out on a limb to be that little bit different.

* Rats’ Tales runs until Saturday, January 12. Details from 0161 833 9833.