Visible Fictions, BBC Radio 4 and BBC Scotland
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and touring
Prince, Unleashed is a play with cross-generational appeal - though whether this is due to the story or the technology involved in its telling is hard to guess. The tale is about a posh Glaswegian orphan Holly (Helen McAlpine) and her struggle to accept her new situation - living with her 'ghastly' cousin Callum (Steven Pritchie) and his family after the death of her parents. The Prince of the title is her trusty four-legged companion - also deceased.
Forrest has constructed two complex and sympathetic characters in Holly and Callum, who negotiate through a bizarre soundscape on their journey toward self-realization and acceptance. Although the story starts off in a naturalistic Glasgow slum, the characters end up wandering through a shared dream world - it's never quite explained how this has happened - as Holly looks for Prince, who she wants to come to save her. It's here that the story gets a bit too convoluted, Peter Gill's use of the soundscape and available technology provides enough of a punch to distract the audience from this fact.
The technology is wireless headsets, which Forrest uses to allow the audience to enter the minds of his characters directly. The device is used successfully, although the intimacy which is achieved through this is not all that different from that which would be accomplished through simpler (and less costly) voice-overs. Additionally, later in the production this device ceases to be used to its full effect.
So rarely is the Traverse's configuration changed that it is worth mentioning how much of a difference it made to have the remodelled Trav 2 arranged in actual traverse style. The performance is accessible no matter which side the audience sits on, and the use of small benches as audience seating rather than the standard fold-out theatre seating added to the feeling of being included in the performance.
Both McAlpine and Ritchie do well with their characters; McAlpine is believably taciturn while Ritchie embodies the jittery energy necessary for a character whose one wish is to be a 'somebody.' The only difficulty here was that at times Ritchie's exuberance made it tough to focus on the quiet intensity of McAlpine's performance.
The play begins to suffer when Prince (Steven Cartwright) returns in the form of a melodramatic cartoon villain (though Cartwright does a successful job keeping the role from being pure camp) threatening to destroy the lower-class world which Holly has been consigned to. Prince is a more terrifying presence when he is a disembodied voice; despite Cartwright's efforts it's hard to take the physical presence seriously as a threat.
In the end, the message of Prince, Unleashed is unclear. Is Holly's 'snobbishness' (which ultimately boils down to a taste for nice clothes, nice books, and a life around people who push themselves to achieve) held up as an example of something to be emulated? Or is the point that she judges Cal's family too harshly - that every person in the play is doing their best to get by and should be allowed to do this in whatever manner they feel most suited for? The play offers no answers, only ambiguity.
The production tours to Wick, Dundee, Cumbernauld, Falkirk, Kilmarnock, Dunfermline, Cambridge, Warwick, Fraserburgh and Inverness until 14th May.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody