Writer: Olivia Mace
Director: Yasmeen Arden
If any fairy tale seems perfectly suited to our modern times, it is Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes which Olivia Mace has given a satirical update in the latest audio release from the Caravan Theatre. Running at just 17-minutes this short story skewers fake news, the game-playing of a government determined to distract people from its incompetence and the pretence of storytelling.
Arriving in the town, cloth merchants Dom and Nick agree to make the vainglorious Emperor a new suit with cloth so precious only the greatest in the land can see it. But as the Narrator establishes the scene, his producer becomes increasingly frustrated by his off-brand embellishments until Cheryl the cleaning lady decides to end the story with the truth.
Mace’s short audio drama is rarely subtle in its jabs at the current government and this eventful year, openly calling-out the weakness of leaders to protect the vulnerable while using patriotic pageantry and spectacle to distract the population from the nation’s problems. As the two advisers to the Emperor sing Pomp, Pomp and Ceremony it’s clear that their ‘right to rule’ is founded in Mace’s imagined world on little more than the artifice of class.
And Mace does not stop there, the swindlers – or ‘businessmen’ as the Narrator is corrected – Dom and Nick (Cummings) make their escape just before the Emperor’s final embarrassment while a brutal sideswipe at the Prime Minister’s indecision about Brexit comes when deciding whether to ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ for the parade of his new outfit. With a 40s girl group tweeting about fake news, the parallels are loud and clear.
Although not a huge leap of the imagination for the audience, the scenario has its limits and Mace pushes towards them in the final section of the story which hammers home the real-life reference points a little too firmly as the alignment with Andersen’s original tale starts to wear slightly at the seams.
What Mace does best is to more artfully pick at the nature of storytelling, letting the Narrator (Valentine Hanson) establish a traditional scene in which a ‘well educated Caucasian gentlemen’ sits in a highbacked leather chair with a large volume and a ‘melodious accent’ to tell us a story. But what emerges within the first few minutes is the falsity of that set-up and interrupted by the Producer / Author, the deception of the Narrator is revealed.
This becomes more intriguing with the arrival of Cheryl the Cleaning Lady who actively challenges the scene setting and ruins the illusion with a more uncomfortable truth. More than anywhere else in The Emperor’s New Clothes (an unfairytale) this comment on the way narrative is controlled, shaped and delivered to us by unseen voices that are not what they seem is sharp and effective.
Performed by Mace, Hanson and Verity Arden, this caricature of modern Britain is lightly presented but filled with anger and frustration. It is not subtle but Mace’s use of layers of narrative, songs and dialogue to lampoon the government is amusingly done and leaves you with hope that once all the bluster dies down, truth will emerge once more.