Tag Archives: Giulia Scrimieri

Once Upon a Mattress

★★★★

Finborough Theatre

Once Upon a Mattress

Once Upon a Mattress

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 7th March 2020

★★★★

 

“songs are bold and brassy, but with moments of pathos and humour”

 

A Broadway hit from 1959 (book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer), Once Upon a Mattress is a musical comedy based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea. Or rather, it takes the essence of that story and has a whole lot of fun elaborating it.

It’s the year 1428 and Prince Dauntless (Theo Toksvig-Stewart) wants to be married, but his domineering, utterly insufferable mother – Queen Aggravain, brilliantly brought to life by Julia Faulkner – wants to keep him for herself, believing no other woman will ever be good enough for her precious son. Perfectly adequate princesses are unfairly rejected for failing the queen’s impossible tests in a pattern that seems destined to repeat itself forever. But when the 13th contender arrives, everything changes.

Beth Burrows is stunning as the sassy, irreverent Princess Winnifred the Woebegone – an exotic creature from the marshlands. Not only is she incredibly animated and full of energy, but she also has perfect comic timing and makes every moment count. There’s a real sparkle in her performance that makes her very compelling to watch.

Steve Watts as King Sextimus has the challenging role of having to communicate only with hand gestures and facial expressions, owing to being under a spell that prevents him from speaking. Given that, it’s remarkable how well he articulates emotion and communicates so lucidly with both the cast and audience.

A six-piece band led by Jessica Douglas provides a lively and often ambitious musical accompaniment that’s punchy and precise. Mary Rodgers’ songs (with lyrics by Marshall Barer) are bold and brassy, but with moments of pathos and humour. They are clever, too – see ‘The Minstrel, the Jester and I’, which plays with the notion of the king being mute by leaving spaces at the end of certain lines in place of the rhyming lyric you expect to hear.

Giulia Scrimieri’s simple yet fluidly effective set features a couple of platforms for dancing on, and screens that can be wheeled around. Colourful and inventive medieval costumes also add to the sense of vibrancy.

There are plenty of laughs, but the plot is sufficiently well constructed that there are several interwoven strands to be followed through. One thread isn’t quite tied up: we see the minstrel charm the wizard into revealing the secret test for the princess, but then Winnifred appears to pass it without any assistance. Being a ‘real’ princess she’s sensitive enough that a single pea beneath 20 mattresses prevents her sleeping, and the minstrel’s plan for her to cheat is bafflingly not referred to again. However, this little mystery in no way impairs the enjoyment of a continually rewarding experience.

Another major plus point is the way that each character, from the jester to the minstrel narrator, is given their own moment of focus. This even-handed character development keeps your interest throughout while helping the show build to a hugely satisfying resolution.

Ably directed by Mark Giesser, Alces Productions’ Once Upon a Mattress is a funny and joyful production of this rarely seen gem.

 

Reviewed by Stephen Fall

Photography by Andreas Lambis

 

Upstairs at the Gatehouse thespyinthestalls

Once Upon a Mattress

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 29th March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Strike Up The Band | ★★★★ | March 2019
The Marvelous Wonderettes | ★★★★ | April 2019
Flat Out | ★★★★ | June 2019
Agent 14 | | August 2019
Pericles, Prince Of Tyre | ★★★ | August 2019
Working | ★★★★ | September 2019
A Modest Little Man | ★★★★ | October 2019
I Do! I Do! | ★★★½ | October 2019
42nd Street | ★★★★ | December 2019
Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny | ★★★★ | February 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Strike up the Band

Strike up the Band
★★★★

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Strike up the Band

Strike up the Band

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 8th March 2019

★★★★

 

“Beth Burrows as Joan displays exceptional acting abilities as well as charming vocals”

 

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a massive fan of musicals, so was surprised to learn of one I wasn’t already familiar with. Strike Up The Band was written by George S. Kaufman in 1927, with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, and is a satirical look at America’s lust for war. The story centres around Horace J. Fletcher (Richard Emerson), a bigshot cheese factory owner who, with the help of various political figures and businessmen, gets the USA to declare war on Switzerland, who have recently opposed tariffs imposed on its cheese.

The show’s comedy value is clear from the start with the song “Fletcher’s American Cheese Choral Society” proving an entertaining opening number. We are then introduced to an array of characters, including Mrs. Draper (Pippa Winslow), a society woman intent on pursuing Horace, and her daughter, Anne (Charlotte Christensen), also looking for love in the form of Timothy Harper (Adam Scott Pringle). Meanwhile, Jim Townsend (Paul Biggin) uses a degrading newspaper article to get the attention of Horace Fletcher’s daughter Joan (Beth Burrows), both of whom have clearly fallen for each other.

The entire cast have done a good job of developing their characters and all show great vocal and acting skills. Richard Emerson as Horace J. Fletcher is a convincing power-hungry businessman, with Charlotte Christensen embracing her role as a naive young girl with love on the brain. Her scenes/duets with Adam Scott Pringle are particularly entertaining. A special mention must also go to David Francis as George Spelvin, who delivers a masterclass in comedy acting as a mysterious spy-like character.

A fairly simple set (Camille Etchart) with nostalgic props suffices and is brought to life with Giulia Scrimieri’s spot-on period costume.

Songs are well delivered with the help of a six-piece band, although this did overpower the singing at times, particularly during ensemble numbers. That being said, there are some definite musical gems scattered throughout. Personal highlights include “Hangin’ Around With You”, “Homeward Bound” and “The Man I Love”, a song in which Beth Burrows as Joan displays exceptional acting abilities as well as charming vocals.

Although bonkers and, at times, a bit difficult to follow, this is a musical that certainly has relevance today and will introduce audiences to some of the Gershwin brothers’ lesser-known songs – there’s even a bit of tap dance thrown in, for good measure! Thanks to director Mark Giesser for bringing this well-performed satire to the London theatre scene.

 

Reviewed by Emily K Neal

Photography by Andreas Lambis

 

Upstairs at the Gatehouse thespyinthestalls

Strike up the Band

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 31st March

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
A Night at The Oscars | ★★★★ | February 2018
After the Ball | ★★★ | March 2018
Return to the Forbidden Planet | ★★★ | May 2018
Kafka’s Dick | ★★★★ | June 2018
Nice Work if You Can Get It | ★★★★ | December 2018
Bad Girls The Musical | ★★★ | February 2019

 

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