Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review: 'Princess' at the Lost Theatre, 16th November 2016

Princess is completely baffling. It bills itself as "finding the feminism in Disney", yet feels more like being trapped in a shitty goth nightclub. Rather than some exploration of gender politics, this is primarily a bunch of attractive dancers in bad wigs hurling themselves around the stage to dated plastic pop music

Tautly muscled men in papier mache rabbit heads strike poses, women dressed like cheerleaders in a Marilyn Manson video shake their asses, a troupe of people with hexagonal heads march across the stage. At one point someone perches in a giant wobbly teacup. With furrowed brow and thoroughly scratched head, a couple of words reverberated around the inside of my skull: what the fuck is this?!

It's never a good sign when you have to retreat to the programme to understand what you're looking at, but sometimes you don't really have a choice. So, twenty minutes I gave in and popped it open, to be told that a summary of what I was watching right now was  "to be a true princess one must submit to all the wishes and woes, the young girl fails to be initiated. Striving to become the perfect princess she must shake of [sic] her demons". I glanced back up at the stage to see a topless dude barrelling around the stage flapping big glittery wings. Hmmm.

This general bewilderment never lifted. Without the programme's (somewhat garbled) assistance I doubt I'd ever have worked out even the broad strokes out of the plot - which is apparently about a young girl's self empowerment through.. uh.. princesses? I guess? Smothered deep within the impenetrable choreography, boring pop music and revealing costumes there's apparently some kind of deconstruction of the princess archetype, but it's so faint you want to call up the Large Hadron Collider dudes and ask them to work on unearthing it.

This vagueness, coupled with the fact that much of the show features sexy girls in revealing costumes wiggling their butts, makes Princess's claims of "finding feminism in Disney" risible. Giving it as much credit as possible, the conclusion that animated princesses are questionable role models for young girls begs to be met with a deadpan "well duh."

By the midway point most people will have concluded that if it doesn't make sense by now, it's probably not ever going to. So you just check out and enjoy the skimpily clad dancers cavorting around in front of you. On this base level of appreciation Princess scrapes by - I'm not going to sit here and deny I don't enjoy watching attractive people writhing around in silly costumes. But even the dancing looks a little under rehearsed. I'm usually pretty easy to please on this front, but even I notice that the performers are off the beat, out of sync with each other and/or missing their cues. 

Let's face it, it's never a good omen when one person simultaneously writes, directs, choreographs, sings the songs and produces a show. There are a handful of multitasking polymath geniuses out there, but all too often it's a sign that you're in for a vanity project. When you've had as much experience with crappy theatre as I have, you can read between the lines and realise that it's less that the show could only ever work with one person doing all these jobs and more that everyone else realised early on that they'd be onto a loser.

By all accounts the guy responsible for this, Stuart Saint, is a talented dude. He's done five straight years of well received panto in the Leicester Square Theatre, and you can tell Princess is something of a passion project for him. In interview he explains that Princess has been worked on since 1996(!!!), and this extended creative gestation has done the show no favours whatsoever. Sometimes you've got to face up to the fact that, even with 20 years of work behind you, it's sometimes best to 'kill your darlings'.

Saint would have done well to heed the words of a latter-day Disney Princess and let it go, because this lumpen heap of 'I don't know what the fuck' is pleasing nobody.


Princess is at the Lost Theatre until 19th November. Tickets here.

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