Tag Archives: Jonny Kelly

A Princess Undone – 3 Stars


A Princess Undone

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 26th February 2018


“this regal rendezvous has small glimmers of brilliance but is left feeling as muddied as Princess Margaret’s name in the news”


The Royal Family have always been hot news, and this year in particular, is no exception. With another royal baby and a royal wedding on its way, the younger generations of the Windsor family are constantly being displayed as front-page headlines. This is nothing new. Before even the likes of Diana became tabloid fodder, there was one Royal whose name grew synonymous with gossip and scandal. Princess Margaret. Her Majesty’s sister had always been a somewhat elusive, mysterious figure, yet her name never strayed far away from the papers. In recent years, she has once again become a matter of interest, helped greatly by the overwhelming success and popularity of the Netflix series The Crown, and Ma’am Darling, last year’s best-selling biography by Craig Brown.

Now, it’s the theatre’s turn to try and get under the skin of Princess Margaret. Inspired by true events, actor Richard Stirling’s play, A Princess Undone, focuses on a particular moment within the late princess’ life where her antics were being upstaged by a new breed of royals, forcing Margaret to unwillingly retreat into the shadows. Stirling attempts to try and comprehend the ball of contradictions that the princess was wrapped within, however, the play is inconsistent in its execution of this, ultimately becoming a rather lacklustre and stuffy affair.

The year is 1993, a time when the Royal Family is struggling to keep face through its ‘annus horribilus’. Living within the apartments of Kensington Palace, Margaret (Felicity Dean) tries damage control, princess style, by enlisting the help of the Queen Mother’s butler, William Tallon (played by Stirling himself) to assist in stealing a selection of potentially scandalous letters, photographs and other personal correspondence from Clarence House – her mother’s residence. Whilst sifting through the piles of papers, ready to burn, Margaret coolly comments on her royal neighbours, whilst Tallon single-handedly deals with her haughty demands and droll remarks with assured repartee.

The witty yet stagnant first half includes the intrusion of the young Tristan (Alexander Knox), a friend of Margaret’s son, whose appearance is somewhat meaningless to the overall plot. It is not until the arrival of infamous gangster-come-playboy-come-actor, John Lindon (Patrick Toomey) that the dramatic tension starts to heat up.

There are moments within A Princess Undone where it shines, particularly within its humour. The sight of Felicity Dean in marigolds and a paper crown, smoking, drinking and prancing around to Desmond Dekker’s The Israelites on the record player, utterly personifies the Princess’ struggle between her dutiful persona and privately being conventional and problematic. However, there are also times where it feels bloated by the text, assuming that the audience has a decent knowledge of Princess Margaret’s life. Thank goodness I had flicked through the programme before the show is all I can say! Bogged down by its dialogue, this regal rendezvous has small glimmers of brilliance but is left feeling as muddied as Princess Margaret’s name in the news.


Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Simon Annand


A Princess Undone

Park Theatre until 17th March



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Review of The Passing of the Third Floor Back – 2 Stars


The Passing of the Third Floor Back

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 30th November 2017


“the text is stilted and overflowing with platitudes that dilute the message”


A cold November or December evening seems the ideal time to head to the Finborough Theatre for, what is billed as, “a unique rediscovery” of ‘The Passing of the Third Floor Back’. Set in London, in 1907, at Christmas, it is described by its author as “an idle fancy” and was one of the longest running West End hits of its time.

The story focuses on a lodging house, home to an assorted group of unscrupulous residents. They all seem to be clinging precariously to their social positions with only one figure, the wealthy self-made businessman Mr Wright, being truly successful. The house is owned by the grasping Mrs Sharpe, who mistreats her maid, Stasia, a rehabilitated juvenile delinquent. The various members of the household are miserable and openly sneering and rude towards each other, the one exception being the respect shown by all to the powerful Mr Wright. In the case of one couple, Major Tompkins and his wife, this involves putting pressure on their daughter Vivian to marry Wright in spite of her obvious horror at the idea.

All of this is thrown off balance by the arrival of a mysterious stranger, who takes a room on “the third floor back”, and whose talk makes each character realise the selfishness and narrowness of their existence. Written back in 1908 by Jerome K Jerome (famous for his comic masterpiece ‘Three Men In A Boat’) it is definitely of its time, and Jasmine Swan’s set and costume wonderfully evoke the Edwardian feel, complementing the language and sensibilities. The atmosphere is impressed upon us as soon as we enter the space. A virginal dominates the stage, while a lone harp player fills the dimly lit air with beautiful melodies. The virtuosity of the harpist, Lizzie Faber, who underscores much of the action, is indeed one of the highlights of the production.

However, this introduction creates expectations that the unfolding plot fails to satisfy. Although it pre-empts ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and draws on the themes of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ (and there are even moments where one can imagine a fledgling J. B. Priestley taking notes) the text is stilted and, surprisingly from the pen of Jerome K Jerome, overflowing with platitudes that dilute the message. The moralising is tiresome, patronising and repetitive.

This is an obvious challenge to the cast who are clearly doing their best, but all too often there is an apologetic feel to the performances. No real character decisions seem to have been made that could have saved the text by injecting some life into it, and Jonny Kelly’s direction does little to shape the piece for a contemporary audience. But in all fairness to the very able cast they are fighting against the words they have been given – and the intimacy of the space makes this show in their eyes.

This show has the potential to be a festive, feel-good morality tale – an antidote to the cold evenings that are drawing in – but somewhere this effect has been lost in the seventy years since it was last performed on the London stage.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Nick Rutter




The Passing of the Third Floor Back

is at the Finborough Theatre until 22nd December



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