"A Little Princess"

Tue 9th – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Naoise Murphy

at 09:39 on 25th Aug 2016

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Foxglove Theatre’s adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel tugs unashamedly at the heartstrings. It is a charming show, equally captivating for children and adults alike.

Sara Crewe is a young heiress who comes from India to London to attend Miss Minchin’s Seminary. She loves her papa more than anything else in the world, she is intelligent, pretty, popular and fabulously rich, but most importantly of all, she is kind. Sara is basically the model of a perfect human being, something which could become grating if handled badly. Thankfully, Izzie Price carries off the performance with such warmth and earnestness that Sara becomes a sympathetic and utterly endearing character.

Most of the other characters work in a similar way – they are all good, kind people brought to life by skilled actors (Tim Blore as Sara’s father, Harriet Knight as Becky, Emma-Louise Howell as Lottie/Bakery Woman and India Footer as Ermengarde, in particular). A notable contrast is of course the horribly cruel Miss Minchin, ably portrayed by Louisa Mathieu. Even the villain is allowed a glimmer of humanity – Mathieu suggests the underlying insecurity driving Miss Minchin’s nastiness, while still playing that nastiness with relish. Tom McNulty gives a fine performance as the slimy lawyer Mr Barrow and as Carmichael. Bethany Greenwood’s portrayal of Lavinia, the sneering school bully, is also lots of fun.

Certain elements elevate this production above a conventional adaptation. The first is the music, beautifully arranged and performed by Flick Chilton. Stunning piano music sets the scene as the audience enter, and adds layers of emotional intensity to an already charged script. The choral arrangement of a folk song, sung over scene changes, genuinely gave me goose bumps. The second is the use of puppets. Audience members are greeted at the door by an adorable monkey and rat, the cast making a special effort with children, who are invited to play with the animals. This small touch exemplified the atmosphere in the theatre.

Costumes were broadly good. The brightly coloured ribbons on the school uniforms was a nice touch, although the period wasn’t entirely clear. The black dresses worn by Becky and by the impoverished Sara also left much to be desired. The set and props all worked, but I did feel they could have been improved with just a little more thought and care.

This is a small fault in an otherwise brilliant production. The cast and production team do not shy away from the brutal aspects of the original novel (at times I found myself wondering if it was not too upsetting for children). There were very few dry eyes by the end.

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Caragh Aylett

at 17:40 on 25th Aug 2016

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This enchanting tale is an adaptation of Frances Hodgeson Burnett’s beloved children’s novel. Set in a prestigious London boarding school, young Sara (Izzie Price) must learn to cope with the death of her wealthy father and her subsequent relegation to servitude. This Foxglove Theatre production is flawlessly acted and wonderfully executed.

The audience is absorbed into Sara’s world of make-believe. Despite mostly consisting of adults, they close their eyes and wish when they are told too and, are suitably in awe at the changes on the stage that fulfil what has been wished for. Indeed, this is certainly helped along by Price’s incredible acting performance. Her ability to fully embody the orphan girl demonstrating her kindness and love of her late father along with her fears as she is left alone is truly wonderful. Her sweet innocence is perfectly contrasted by the brutal character of Miss Minchin (Louisa Mathieu). Mathieu’s physicality as the evil head mistress who condemns Sara to servitude creates a terrifying character who the audience quickly grow to dislike. Throughout the performance, the whole cast create believable and complex characters which are perfectly complimented by a natural and quick script; a result of Price’s wonderful adaptation.

The ability of the company to produce such a heart-warming piece of story-telling is impressive. The audience is invited into Sara’s attic room where we meet a rat and a funny little monkey, depicted through puppetry. This creates an enchanting sequence, bringing to life these two creatures and allowing the audience to appreciate the skill behind the lifelike puppetry.

The piece is subtly underscored throughout. The talented Flick Chilton on the piano brings each scene to life and creates a beautiful tone throughout the performance. Equally, the singing from the cast is harmonised beautifully but it certainly is not over done; ‘A Little Princess’ is not a musical but the singing aids smooth scene changes and it an elegant addition to the piece.

‘A Little Princess’ really is a wonderful piece of children’s theatre. The wonderful acting and script develop a charming piece of story-telling which will enchant both young and old alike.

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