By Flossie Waite
A tutti frutti and York Theatre Royal Production
Touring nationally and internationally until 3rd January 2015
“What are they doing putting vegetables in the bed?” asks Princess Vol-au-vent (“named after her father’s favourite party snack”) in Mike Kenny’s adaptation of The Princess and the Pea. Hans Christian Anderson revealed nothing about the princess, so this witty and surprising take tells her story through an inventive script that lovingly teases the fairytale genre.
The play is set in The Museum of Forgotten Stuff, the audience welcomed by the owner, her son, and the trainee; all three are overjoyed but bemused to see such large crowds after so long without anyone visiting. The museum houses all manner of artefacts, from glass slippers to porridge bowls, but they expect that we’re here to see The Famous Pea. Unfortunately it’s out of the building being renovated, but the museum staff can tell us the story…
What follows is a masterclass in engaging storytelling, with some of the best bucket-based choreography to boot. The three workers become Princess Vol-au-vent (Danielle Bird), the Prince (Oliver Mawdsley), the Queen (Joanna Brown), and many other characters besides, using the museum’s contents for inventive props and costumes. The production manages to stay true to the 200-year-old tale whilst also being contemporary and purposeful – there are no faddy twists, only the steady depiction of a well-rounded, self-assured lady and a progressive attitude to princesses.
It is a compliment to the script and the energy-filled performances that the play feels improvised, and it always keeps you on your toes – at one point, the son suddenly decides that he needs a break, and the lights go up as the three settle into the audience for a cup of tea. It does have a trace of the pantomime about it – the play is based around a fairytale and references many others, the museum set looks like Cinderella’s kitchen, there’s audience interaction, some cross-dressing, and Ollie Birch’s lovely songs. But The Princess and the Pea has much bigger ambitions than that. It has all the laughs and none of the predictability.
It’s not surprising that a script from Mike Kenny, the Olivier-award-winning writer of children’s plays, is good, but on top of that, you get a sense that every person involved in this production knows exactly what they’re doing, and are having fun doing it. The Princess and the Pea proves that you don’t have to invert a classic fairytale to find a forward-thinking retelling – the princess cares less about the pea and more about finding a job, but she still gets her happy ending.
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