ChildrensFamilyFestive 15/16North WestReview

The Princess and the Pea – Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Devised by The Company
Writer: Kevin Dyer
Director: Nina Hajiyianni
Reviewer: John Roberts

 

As we step inside the familiar surroundings of Unity 1 ( the venue’s larger space) we are instantly struck by a change in layout. For the first time in this reviewer’s memory the space, which is usually end-on, has been reconfiguredinto traverse.

This is the fourth Christmas production director Nina Hajiyianni has directed in co-production between The Unity and Action Transport Theatre and it’s certainly her most daring and ambitious one to date. Taking inspiration from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy-tale of the same name, the company, alongside writer Kevin Dyer, has added itsown spin on the tale… in fact it’s only two-thirds of the way through that the original tale as we know it starts to come into play…

The Princess in this retelling is not a princess by traditional definition; in fact, she is a stranded refugee who, following a shipwreck, is left to fend for herself in the Land of Meane, where the inhabitants live up to their town’s name. If this all sounds a little lofty and political then don’t worry as the reality is it’s barely even touched upon, a shame as there was a real chance to push the boundaries and blur the world’s of fairy-tale and reality even more but, in this instance, the pull of the “happily-ever- after” reigns supreme.

Uniformly excellent performances are given by the strong ensemble team of actors who all multi-rôle throughout. Duncan Cameron is charming as the put-upon Prince who sneaks out in the evening to get some solace from his evil mother, played with relish by Keddie Sutton. Sutton balances the delivery of the villainous Queen beautifully and carries just enough menace without truly scaring the younger members of the audience. Josie Cerise gives the “Princess” a strong and independent edge, this is a heroine of the 21st Century and one that thrives on her own accomplishments and challenges, but it is a comic performance from Graham Hicks as the larger than life pun-tastic Pea that steals the show, he may be green on stage but his performance is technicolor to the core.

The show is designed by LIPA students Victoria Saville (set) and Molly Lacey (costume). Their vision is strong and really lifts the show and, when lit by Phil Saunders’ stunning lighting design, really gives the production some powerful atmosphere.

Sadly it doesn’t all hit the same aforementioned levels; the sound design and balance by Julie Kearney is uneven, especially during the musical numbers (Patrick Dineen), which on the whole are enjoyable but lack a level of lyrical pizzazz. Full of rhyming couplets and obvious tricks, the songs fall sadly short ofserviceable.

The other pitfall of the show comes fromthe staging within the traverse layout. A lot of the action favours the larger bank of the audience and the smaller bank is far too often left looking at actors’ backs with cursory over-the-shoulder glances.

On the whole, The Princess and the Pea is a delightfully ambitious production thatprovides plenty for old and young to enjoy and the negatives are easily fixed. The Unity and Action Transport once again give the audience a really ‘peasing’ time.

Runs until 9 January 2016 | Image: Brian Roberts

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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