Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Theatre review: Charming - A Farcical Fairytale

With Christmas being pantomime season, there's always a couple of companies offering an alternative twist on the traditional fairytale, and at the Old Red Lion it's Ross Howard's Charming - A Farcical Fairytale. Four brothers are in the running to be the next King of England, and rather than age, the succession will come down to who finds a fairytale princess to marry first. Foot-fetishist Prince Charles Charming (Tom Oxenham) is touring a clog around the kingdom to find the foot he fell in love with, but Cinderella (Gemma Smith) turns out to be a bit more down-to-earth than he can handle. Rupert (Tom Everatt) has fallen for Rapunzel (Zakiyah Rawat,) but getting to the top of her tower is nothing compared to the question of whether she's old enough to have her hair climbed up. William (Alex Frisby) has bought a beautiful girl from some dwarves, but is a bit squeamish about kissing a corpse, while Simon's (Alexander Stutt) plan to rescue Sleeping Beauty is hampered by the fact that he faints at the sight of blood.

The show pits the four princes against each other in a race to the aisle, but in the confusion they find that the first girl to catch their eye might not be the best match.

Shows that rely on farcical misunderstandings and slapstick tend to take a while to warm up, but Charming has a pretty disastrous opening to overcome: The first scene sees the princes visiting the Beast (Matthew Winters,) and in among a load of misfiring jokes about "Be My Guest" there's an overlong expositional argument, that mainly sees the princes stepping on each other's lines. Nor is it a great start to illustrate that puppeteering is harder than it looks, thanks to Winters clearly not knowing how to do it (the Beast head is a great prop, but as Vanessa commented afterwards, it looks like the company found the puppet first, then worried about what to do with it later.)

Howard's script never quite ditches the misfiring jokes (Charles getting Cinderella's name wrong is laboured, and the drunken Fairy Godmother feels like a trope that's been done to death, though at least Felicity Wentzel gives it her best shot.) But the show does steadily improve as it goes on: There's a great running gag of Snow White's glass coffin being unceremoniously wheeled around the place, but it's even better when she wakes up as Antonia Draper's Welsh firebrand punctures the princes' mediaeval misogyny, and provides a real boost to the evening. The super-handsome Everatt and cute Stutt (who could be Matt Smith's Mini-Me) even eventually get to be as charming as the title promised when their princes actually find something in common with, respectively, Snow White and Rapunzel. For a show that's been in development for over a year Charming is pretty messy and unfocused, and it spends too much time on jokes that aren't anywhere near as funny as they think they are. But it goes some way to redeeming itself as it goes on and finds its heart.

Charming - A Farcical Fairytale by Ross Howard is booking until the 3rd of January at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

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