Review: DDF 2016 The Assembly Rooms Theatre

The Princes’ Quest

The Princes’ Quest, written by Sophie Mcquillan with music and lyrics by Henry Winlow, is a musical fairytale set firmly in the 21st century. The play features a host of catchy tunes ranging in sentiment from amusing to heartfelt and tender. The dialogue at times struck me as having a definite Bridget Jones-esque flavour with many cliché lines such as “if you can’t get over him, get under him” being fired out left, right and centre by the two female leads. Following in this vein we also witness the Princess (Lydia Feerick) and her ‘wing-woman’ Tinkerbell (Ellie Jones) advocating their status as free, independent women whilst simultaneously searching for two illusive Princes who will sweep them off their feet. Luckily enough for the Princess, two come along at once! The suave macho man Freddie (Michael Yates) and the more sheepishly sensitive Earnest (Joe McWilliam) battle it out to win the heart of the Princess.

Both suitors are on their A-game in terms of quality ‘chat’, feats of strength (lifting the Princess!), general flaunting of physical prowess and even a very funny dance-off moment – what more could any girl ask for! However, all this masculine posing does not capture the Princess’ heart, and instead it is the two Princes that end up falling for each other in a refreshing and tender twist on the age old love-triangle routine. On a deeper note, behind all the instances of “boob grazing” and swigging shots, the musical reminds us that the path to happiness is not defined by a generic fairytale formula, but comes in many different forms that are just as magical and profound. To me the play’s main message was the importance of telling your own story rather than following someone else’s.

Check Your Hair, Mate

Who said village life was uneventful? The village of Little Humping certainly doesn’t fit the mould. Alex Prescot and Macks Bougeard bring us Check Your Hair, Mate, a whirlwind comedy extravaganza that hardly leaves time to draw breath. The Short Back and Sides asked for by the customers at the local village hairdressers is the only conventional aspect in the play. Characters range from the sexually frustrated business owner Fiona (Sarah Slimani), who wishes to escape the suffocations of village life, to the showpiece of the play: eccentric German Chess Champion Hans Zugszwan (Harry Adair) who struts around wearing lederhosen and a moustache. After a series of misunderstandings Hans ends up engaged in a chess tournament with the local fisher, Bobby (Uday Duggal), who is mistaken for another world famous ‘chesser’ Bobby Fischer, who just happens to be living incognito in the village under the false name of Joe (Harvey Comerford). The dialogue is jam-packed with absurd puns; a favourite of mine being “whose fraulein is it anyway?”, which went down particularly well with the audience.

The play got off to a slightly shaky start as the dialogue sped along with, at times, incomprehensible speed. However, once things began to settle down it felt as if the chaos was under control and the wittiness of the dialogue could shine through at its full potential. I especially loved the meta-drama aspect of the play, executed through a serious of voice-overs, which narrated and engaged with the characters and props in a series of droll and inventive ways. I also found the abrupt methods of scene transition, which involved a freeze-frame moment cutting to blackout before flashing up the next scene very effective in capturing the lively, wacky and sketch-like vibe of the play. Overall I thought the play was thoroughly amusing, engaging and entertaining throughout.

One Small Step

Last, but in no way least, was Rohan Perumatantri’s heartbreakingly tender One Small Step. From beginning to end, Perumatantri’s down to earth yet immensely beautiful script kept the audience enthralled in utter silence. Steph (Annie Davison) and Euston (Dominic McGovern) portrayed a brother and sister who strive to make the best of a tragic situation (Steph is diagnosed with terminal cancer and has but 6 months to live) by defying reality and re-living the cherished imaginings of their childhood fantasies together. However, reality catches up as Steph’s condition worsens and she must confront her fate.

The dynamic between Steph and Euston was immediately believable. Both Davison and McGovern delivered highly accomplished and nuanced performances, capturing the multiple stages involved in fighting an illness from an internal and external perspective with sensitivity and emotional depth that remained completely compelling. I found Davison’s character particularly moving to watch as she subtly communicated feelings of agonised helplessness simultaneously with self-willed denial. By refusing to release the flood of his emotions Euston protected himself and Steph, an aspect of his character I found extremely moving. Perumatantri certainly succeeded in pulling on the audience’s heartstrings; I could hear plenty of sniffing amongst the dead silence. A major reason the play came across so poignantly and avoided over-sentimentality for me came down to the dramatic lighting and sparse staging. The resulting atmosphere was very evocative and served to further intensify the bond between Steph and Euston, together in a bubble of imagination. The play was a creative marvel and truly a credit to all involved.

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