Writer: Mike Kenny
Artistic Director: Wendy Harris
Music: Oliver Birch
Reviewer: Jim Gillespie
“The simple things you see are all complicated”, sang The Who, and Leeds-based company tutti frutti would probably endorse this. Their Christmas offering at the Crucible Studio takes Hans Christian Anderson’s well-loved fairy tale of The Princess and the Pea, and tweaks it into a commentary on deception and reality. Much like the theatre itself. Not that such concerns are to the forefront of a young audience of primary age children who are enchanted by a fabulous hour’s entertainment.
The basics of the story are maintained. A Prince is seeking a Princess for his bride, and trying to establish that the possible contenders really are of royal blood. His mother tests this by piling a mountain of mattresses on top of a dried pea, on the basis that a real princess will be so delicate of feeling that the pea will disturb her rest. The Princess passes a sleepless night, and hence the test, and secures the hand of the Prince. They live happily ever after, of course.
Not quite. In tutti frutti’s re-telling of the tale, the Princess declines to take the ridiculous mattress challenge, and enjoys a good night’s sleep on the floor. She declines to marry at the Prince’s request and makes him wait until they have established their compatibility through working together. When the Prince has passed this test, she accepts him.
Another twist. The story is told by three overall-clad curators of The Museum of Forgotten Stuff, whose exhibits include the famous pea. They act out the story, chapter by chapter, until the Prince and Princess, together with his mother, rescue the royal family fortunes by turning their castle into a museum open to the public, in which they serve as…overall-clad curators.
Director Wendy Harris has said: “We thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of how we search for the truth and also find out what it means by “real’”. But while the piece certainly accommodates these ideas, it is also immensely entertaining. The simple set is used inventively and with imagination, sound and lighting are subtle and well cued, and costumes are simple but effective.
The success of the show rests though on the trio of actors who bring the story to life, playing a dizzying array of characters, providing much of the music, singing and dancing, even juggling buckets. In Oliver Mawdsley, Joanna Brown, and Claire Burns, tutti frutti have created an energetic and talented ensemble who work in joyous harmony.
While many of the songs are given energetic treatment by the cast on a variety of instruments from tuba to spoons, special mention should go to the soundtrack which provides backing for several of the numbers in the show. Oliver Birch’s music perfectly supported the atmosphere of the piece, without being obtrusive at any stage.
One final subtle tweak deserves recognition. I do not know if the Princess in the original story had a name or not, but I suspect it was not Princess Vol au Vent, as it is here. No joking matter. We are not in catering pack territory: Our Princess can really Fly by the Wind. Very far from being a hypersensitive high-born diva bruised by a vegetable, a passive beneficiary of the Prince’s affection, she is a free spirit, and royal/real in the fullest sense.
Runs until Saturday 3rd January|Photo:Brian Slater