The Worst Princess
Adapted by Carina Rodney from the book by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogivie
New Writing North in association with Sage Gateshead, supported by bait
Newcastle City Library
On 30 September 2014
Review by Peter Lathan
The Worst Princess is aimed at the under-7s so, since I have no relatives or children (or even grandchildren) of that age—well, not close enough to Newcastle to take one—I did the next best thing. I kept an eye and a half on the audience, most but not all of which were from a year 1 class from a local primary school, and half an eye on the performance.
If involvement and participation are a sign of success, then The Worst Princess is definitely a success. The children joined in the singing and the shouting—they loved the shouting! And that was not just the schoolkids; there were some who were very much younger and they too joined in, with excitement sending some of them running around.
They were responsive to the characters too. Of course they loved Princess Sue and were prepared to hate the Dragon in a very pantomime way but as soon as they realised the Dragon was quite nice really, they became supporters. They loved the Frog too—one even told him what sort of noise he should make!
And they very soon recognised that Prince Archibald was not a particularly good prince—and certainly not brave as princes should be—so they warmed much more to his Squire Brian who had a difficult job trying—and failing—to make him behave in a proper princely manner.
The play turns the traditional fairytale on its head. Princess Sue (Rachel Gay) is a tomboy and wants adventures; riding demurely behind the the Prince is definitely not for her: she wants to be at the front! Mind you, if she's as good at adventures as she is at playing with her yoyo, she won't get very far!
And as for the Frog (played by Claire Tustin, who also plays the Dragon), he's just a frog. When Sue kisses him, he remains a frog. No changing into a handsome prince there!
What a disappointing prince Archibald is! Not for him killing the Dragon before rescuing Sue from her tower. No, he'd much rather "rescue" her and save the dragon-fighting till later, thank you very much. He looks the part, with his moustache and his Prince pants, his helmet, sword and shield. Such a shame, then, that when the sword gets stuck in the earth, Brian has to pull it out for him because he's not strong enough.
He is good at one thing though; he has designed some lovely dresses for Sue which he reveals to her on reaching his home. And she is not pleased; she's not interested in dresses, nor, for that matter, in exchanging one tower for another, even if the new one is pink!
Jeremy Bradfield makes a fine useless Prince and you can sense Joe Jonston's Brian wanting to shake his head in despair every time he has to try to keep Archibald on the right path. Both are talented musicians, as is Tustin who makes both the Dragon and the Frog endearing, and all three keep the songs and incidental music flowing throughout.
Rachel Guy's Princess Sue is an absolute joy, capturing the young audience right from the start.
The play's message is simple—be what you want to be, not what others expect of you—and it comes over clearly without being in any way preachy. Director Ruth Johnson keep the piece moving at a good pace with lots of emphasis on the humour.
Some of the non-audience participation songs are perhaps a tad long, for there was, just occasionally, some signs of slackening of interest among the audience, especially the youngest ones, but that is a minor criticism.
There are performances almost every day (sometimes twice a day) all over Co. Durham and Northumberland throughout October and details can be found in our news story.