Tuesday, 5 April 2016
Theatre review: Princess Caraboo
By the time Eddie realises she's a fraud, Caraboo's already become a sensation in the South West and beyond. He's also, of course, started to fall in love with her - but Lord Marlborough (Oliver Stanley) also has plans for her and isn't used to being told no.
The songs have a bit of an Alan Menken / Disney feel to them, which in a studio space inevitably invites comparisons to The Clockmaker's Daughter - a bit of an unfair comparison as that's hard for anything to live up to for me, but Princess Caraboo makes a good stab at it. It doesn't lack for charm, and the framing device (that sees the Worrells and their servants recreate the events they got caught up in) gives the actors a bit of leeway to ham things up - O’Malley's Agathias specifically refuses Worrell's request to tone things down and goes for a full pirate-with-eyepatch, while the silliest point is probably when Caraboo and a baffled linguist (Ruben Kuppens) sing a whole song at each other in gibberish ("Speaking Caraboo.")
The songs take in a variety of styles to help keep things fresh - from a pastiche of Spanish music in Agathias' big number "When," to a waltz in the big group dance "Fabulous" - with a lot of catchy tunes, none more so than Caraboo's signature song "I Am My Own Person," a proper earworm that'll be stuck in your head for some time afterwards. There's a generally excellent cast, with Johal and especially James in strong voice as the romantic leads.
Things take a bit of a darker turn in the second act, which is also a bit flabbier than the first - "Daughters," a duet between Johal and the excellent Lawn, their characters bonding over both having lost children, is a moving moment and a good song, but its placement near the end means it feels like it's just holding up the dénouement; and when that dénouement comes, it succumbs to multiple ending syndrome, as Willmott can't quite decide when to leave things be. But despite a couple of quibbles this remains a real fringe joy - songs I'd happily listen to again, and a show that deserves, like Willmott and Collins' previous musical at the Finborough, Lost Boy, to have a further life after this run.
Princess Caraboo by Phil Willmott and Mark Collins is booking until the 22nd of April at the Finborough Theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Scott Rylander.