Saturday, 23 November 2019

REVIEW: The Prince and the Pauper at the Watermill Theatre

The Watermill Theatre has been establishing a unique style of family Christmas shows at the intimate Berkshire venue offering an enjoyable alternative to pantomime . Sleeping Beauty (2016), The Borrowers (2017) and Robin Hood (2018) are followed up this year with a seven week run of The Prince and the Pauper with mainly matinee performances at 10.30 am, 2.30 pm and 5.30pm. They are simple charming storytelling shows that will appeal to any child and their parents.

Chinonyerem Odimba has adapted the Mark Twain's 1881 novel for the stage with music by Tarek Merchant and envisaged it as a band of medieval strolling players retelling the tale as a children's story. They have retained Prince Edward as the Tudor prince and the London setting but freely adapted the rest for their target audience. The soldier Miles Hendon becomes a talking dog, the Tudor judicial system gets changed to a Victorian Workhouse and the Pauper Tom becomes Tomasina, a young girl who looks nothing like the Prince! When the court tries to test Tom as to whether she is king they use magic tricks, Brussels sprouts and a delightful puppet dog, Bonzo to appeal to the kids. However they retain the core message of the story of the need to promote greater social equality and not judging people by their appearance. 

Stacey Ghent is Bette, the trumpet playing story teller and Loren O'Dair is her violin playing partner Nan and they are at the heart of the show with a charming comical style as the sisters of Tom. Hayden Wood doubles up as the King (Henry VIII) near the end of his reign and Father Canty, the concerned harsh father of Tom. Anne-Marie Piazza plays a variety of supporting characters including Lady Whatsit and the Father who teaches Tom to read and play guitar. 

The Prince is played by David Fallon with the mannerisms and looks of a young Mr Bean uncertain how to react to what he sees but gradually emerging as a hero as he understands what he needs to do. He plays piano and clarinet as he explores the world of the Canty family. Opposite him is Tendai Rinomhota as Tomasina the young poor girl who gets mistaken by the court as the Prince and creates the running joke as we can all see they are nothing like each other. 

As always the Watermill set designer, in this case Katie Lias, creates a clever
imaginative set for the small stage space with the feel of the period London skyline, practical doors, windows and shop counters all effectively used and the castle walls conceal the piano and a comic bed far too short for the dying king. Director Abigail Pickard Price gets the tone right, at times almost like a Mel Brooks movie, moving action along and managing to avoid the problems of actor musicians moving awkwardly around the stage with their instruments. There are nice interactions with the kids in the audience which could have been developed more.

The music is light and frivolous with the best songs being the comical "the Dog that got the bone" sung by Miles Hendon with a lively fun dance and the Workhouse routine "Hammer it down".

This is lovely Christmas outing for the family with a powerful message for the kids but delivered in a charming production which takes liberties with the original story to make it appeal to the young audiences. A real treat for all the Berkshire schools. 

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: stalls row E | Price of Ticket: £23
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