Stuart Saint, director of the popular and outrageously funny adult pantos at Leicester Square Theatre, brings his passion project ‘Princess’ to Lost Theatre, giving us a multidisciplinary exploration of what he terms ‘gig-theatre’. Whilst music is understandably key here (indeed, there is a pulse-driven and mostly enjoyable electro-pop soundtrack for the whole show written and recorded by Saint) this is not a musical, but probably best described as a dance show.
In the blurb, Saint tells us 'Princess' is concerned with “shattering the illusion of happily-ever-afters, banishing the storybook fairy tale and finding the feminism in Disney”. Whilst it is evident that the show is exploring stories and characters from fairy tales, I’m not sure it fully communicates much else particularly clearly. In fact, “finding the feminism in Disney” seems to be a bit of a bold claim here.
At the opening of the show we are shown our young female protagonist watching distorted videos of Disney films, before a muscular ‘White Rabbit’ lures her down the rabbit hole. Alice’s trip to Wonderland is used as a framing device for our young girl to ‘explore’ Princess characters, and although this is a perfectly serviceable concept, it is the content of ‘Princess’ that is difficult to follow. It’s hard to see what particular princesses or aspects of princess archetypes the audience are being asked to contemplate.
We do get a twisted Cinderella early on, where Cinder’s evil Stepmother (played by talented male dancer Onyemachi Ejimofor) takes the Prince for her/himself. But surrounding that, the dances and lyrics to the pre-recorded tracks aren’t clear enough to determine any particular Princess characters or their stories, and we are not really sure what our little Alice is facing/combatting/thinking about/going through. Later, we also see a twisted Peter Pan (but I had to check the programme to fully grasp that…) and although this section is the most successful in storytelling, it strikes me that Tinkerbelle isn’t actually a princess at all, even though she is a highly sexualised character in the Disney franchise. Considering we see The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast in the distorted video in the opening, it seems odd to me that these stories aren’t explicitly explored, seeing as they are two films/stories that are continually referenced when people discuss controversial roles of women characters in fairy tales.
Twisted/modernised fairy tales, feminist reconstruction and exploring the symbolism of the original Grimm stories are all rich coal mines of content so it is puzzling that 'Princess' doesn’t ever quite begin to really dig into it all. I still remain unsure as to what the ‘message’ of the show was, or even if there was one at all. We’ve seen twisted fairy tales many times over the years in everything from literature to television, but Princess is such hard work to follow as an audience, we struggle to find if Saint has anything new to say on the topic.
However, the dancers do a great job with some demanding (if sometimes repetitive) choreography. Morgan Scott as the White Rabbit and Helen Scott as the Green Fairy (Tinkerbelle) especially do a great job of storytelling through dance, with their sections standing out in their clarity, but even they can’t help us find our way through Wonderland. The aesthetic for 'Princess' is strong - from the stagecraft to the marketing. The original music is pacey with some tracks standing out as extremely well-crafted. The video work and set on stage are all well constructed. It does seem slightly incongruous that all the dancers except Alice wear very little throughout, making a thorough exploration of Princess tropes difficult, but at least the ‘look’ is clear. Yet sadly, all this does not equal a fully constructed show if we can’t understand what’s happening.
Perhaps it is the heavy dance aspect that is the odd choice here, as Saint clearly has a lot of interests that he is looking to explore. The dancing, whilst generally enjoyable to watch, does not seem to offer enough of a medium for Saint to fully explore the ideas and concepts that are clearly important to him. The programme reads that by the end of the piece, Alice “makes sense of her thoughts and becomes enlightened”. If that’s the case, I’ll have what she’s having.
LOST Theatre, London
15th November - 19th November, 2016
© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Wednesday 16th September, 2016.