The Princes' Quest

Thu 4th – Sat 20th August 2016

reviews

Kate Nicholson

at 10:10 on 12th Aug 2016

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I’m not often a fan of musicals. There are too many happy go-lucky characters who trot off into the sunset at the end for my liking. Going into a production which promises to question gender convention sparked my interest a little, but I have to admit that I didn’t have high hopes and anticipated an hour of clichés.

Yet, I was pleasantly surprised when 'The Princes' Quest' was sweet, uplifting and with a few original twists – although, don’t get me wrong, such twists still left the piece feeling quite safe. Making a fairy tale focus on being true to who you really are still gives the traditional satisfaction of a happy ending that we all expect.

The piece opens with a small centre stage occupied by three nonchalant musicians and a makeshift bench, as a young girl (Bianca Watts) jumps on the scene. She acts as the surprising source of wisdom throughout the play, questioning ‘how we see the world’ with an inquisitive gaze and an energetic leap across the stage. Her scenes with Earnest (Joe McWilliam) provide the outer frame of this frame narrative, a sweet and uplifting encounter. Earnest, a sensitive soul, embarks on re-telling the story of how he met his true love at a house party (who doesn’t, in this day and age), a character played remarkably well as he captures the audience’s affection. His competition for the love of Katie (Lydia Feerick) against Freddie (Asher Gilnsman), may be filled with slightly cringe-worthy tasks, such as a Karaoke competition, but does display the true awkwardness of twenty first century chivalry. Katie, in turn, wants to find true love, assisted by her wing woman, the aptly named Tinkerbelle. Ah, the classic love triangle story.

Whilst all the characters have their individual quirks, the play gives Freddie, who on the surface is a misogynistic ‘lad’, a pleasant depth. His LGBTQ twist is what really makes this piece stand out, challenging both the convention of gender and making the audience realise our own conventional attitudes towards fairy tales – since we didn’t see the LGBTQ twist coming either.

In a piece where reality – the highs and lows of love – take priority over convention, it is certainly refreshing. 'The Princes' Quest' is a comforting and heart-warming piece which leaves all characters with a satisfactory ending. Bear in mind that there is there was no evil figure and all the characters appeared quite pleasant enough. It is somewhat disappointing in that aspect – where is the evil queen? If you’re after a safe - but still entertaining - piece paired with modern day romance, give this play a go.

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Izzie Fernandes

at 13:23 on 12th Aug 2016

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No better description of Front Room Production’s ‘The Princes Quest' comes to mind than a fairytale-meets-musical, in which revises gender stereotypes.

This is a bedtime story retold through the lens of a booze-fuelled teenage party. I am at least 12 years too old to enjoy the privilege of bedtime stories, and time passing has led to an awareness of gender stereotypes which this piece keenly challenges.

These are not totally original ideas. Feminists have been turning fairytales on their heads for decades (Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber ringing any bells?) But Carter's fairytale revisions are gruesome, and this contesting of the patriarchy is more rosy. The paradox is humorous: aged 20, I am watching a subversive fairytale whilst simultaneously anticipating the melody of the next song.

A chance meeting between the bubbling and believably childlike Lottie (Bianca Watts) and Prince Ernest (Joe McWilliam) make for a musical journey characterized by songs and sparkles. An enchanting atmosphere is created and sustained by the musicians whose keyboard, cymbals and electric guitar are merrily clad in flowers.

At the heart of 'The Princes' Quest' is the motivation to blitz patriarchal clichés, and rewrite the archetypal fairytale endings we know so well. The girl talk between Tinkerbell and Princess Katie (Ellie Jones and Lydia Feerick) takes the tone you might imagine if Elle Woods got hold of the Cinderella manuscript. Enraging, yet the sadly common phrases ‘bitch’ and ‘he had you on a tight leash’ are deployed intelligently to communicate the cast’s quest to banish stereotypes. This too is conveyed by cleverly lyricised songs: ‘We’re not just waiting for men to start dating’ rings out in particular.

Compared to stage presence, acting and imagination, the singing is undoubtedly a weaker aspect . That said, polished rehearsal, effective use of levels, and well-choreographed staging means despite the odd dodgy note, the singing doesn’t fall flat.

Stage energy is sustained by the bubbling performances of Ellie Jones and Bianca Watts, whilst whole cast synchronization and cooperation gives a professional feel. Right down to the neat formation of their final bows, I find myself impressed by the cast’s ability to transform a plot which risks being diminished to a childish feel, into a more weighty piece.

It is a shame the performance does not end ten minutes sooner. It reaches a colourful conclusion, yet a spiral into unnecessary melodrama then begins. This is not disastrous - for beneath its glitzy facade, the cast avoids falling foul of too many mushy relationship clichés.

With sparkle and a well-observed nod to the 21st century, Front Rooms Productions successfully marries drunken promises with a good old fashioned test of character, in a musically magic land.

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