Monday, 3 December 2012

The Prince and the Pauper - review

Written by: Naomi Lawson (@NaomiMLawson)

Unicorn Theatre, London

As the days get colder and the wind more biting, the Unicorn Theatre invites us into the warm to share the festivities in this storytelling bonanza for ages 6 plus. Jemma Kennedy presents her adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, the ultimate tale of mistaken identity which sees one young boy travel from rags to riches and another the opposite way entirely. Under Selina Cartmell’s direction, the ensemble (led by twins Danielle and Nichole Bird as the young Prince Edward and Tom Canty) brings the glitz and grime of the Tudor world to life.

The show is presented as a tale told by a group of players, which allows for the multitude of character changes (eight actors, around forty roles). Garance Marneur’s mobile circular walled set, with its peepholes, cubbyholes and open spaces, perfectly facilitates these role changes. Susan Kulkarni’s plain, white costumes accompanied by painted white faces are a wonderful blank canvas that allow for embellishment when needed. There is excellent characterisation from all, with a wild array of (utterly convincing) accents, notable in Nicholas Boulton as the tyrannical John Canty, the gluttonous King Henry VII, a Spanish ambassador and an Irish prison keeper, to name but a few of his roles. Meanwhile the rest of the cast tackle their roles with equal gusto including: poor Ma Canty and the scooter riding Lord Chancellor (Katherine Toy); a Busker and the brave Miles Hendon (Jake Harders); the brash Bet Canty and the future Queen Elizabeth I (Jason Morrel); a priest, a doctor, and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Richard Evans); a hardened rent collector and Lord Hertford (Jonathon Glew). Even the Bird twins find time to slip into ensemble characters at certain points.

To call it panto would be unfair, but it retains much of the fun, exaggerated characters, cross gender roles and a slither of audience interaction that always proves successful at entertaining young people. It happily avoids contrived attempts to reel in the adult audience, such as sleazy jokes and innuendo, but instead relies on historical, more intelligent quips, generating its own charm to hook the older spectator. Music (Anthony Elvin) is used to a lively effect, with a diva number from Lady Elizabeth and a slightly cheeky nod to Les Miserables with a take on I Dreamed a Dream standing out especially. The spirit of the performance cannot be faulted, even surviving a tumble from Danielle/Nichole Bird (hard to tell which in their Ensemble costumes) at the very end.  

The pacing and plot seems a little incoherent in the second act, sometimes a little rushed and at other times dragging slightly and the story’s moral of equality and human kindness to all seems rather shoehorned into that one act. The writing could be seen as clichéd at times, however, when those thoughts strike, it’s perhaps important to remember the show’s primary target audience. But don’t let that put you off; it’s a dynamic, witty and warm production that definitely has plenty of space for adult appreciation.

This production runs until 13 January 2013.

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