Like the Duke of York, our Prince & The Pauper hero is locked out of the palace. Bit careless, but will he return to his gilded life? Let's see shall we…
*Christmas klaxon* First the John Lewis ad and now the first of the festive shows – The Prince and The Pauper at The Watermill Theatre in Newbury.
The Crimbo theatre season is often characterised by cheesy gags, cheeky dames and ‘It’s behind yous’, but The Watermill always puts on magical bookish stage adaptation. This year, Mark Twain’s famous tale is in the spotlight.
Set in 1542, Twain’s story has been given a mini reboot. It follows the adventures of Prince Edward Tudor and Tomasina (rather than Tom) Canty, the beggar on the streets of the future king’s capital, London.
Yes folks, the pauper is a girl. Quite right too. There’s a long festive history of gender-bending roles, so bring it on. The two are lookalikes, the prince living a life of riches, the pauper destined a miserable existence in the workhouse. Their worlds unexpectedly collide and, both sick of their lot, swap identities. Ready to see how the half live? Hell yes. Would their lives ever be the same again? Er, no.
To be honest, you’d expect privileged Prince Edward (David Fallon), to be hot footing back to the palace after a night in East London. Less hip hangout and more hell on earth in the 16th century. And he’s right to be appalled.
Tomasina (Tendai Rinomhota), on the other hand, lucked out. Posh togs, an all you can eat buffet and a warm bed to sleep in at night. She just had the small of issue of convincing the Royal court that she’s an imposter, not the future king. But they’re blinded by bling to notice.
David Fallon and Tendai Rinomhota give likeable performances. Tendai makes Tomasina someone to really root for and David somehow achieves the same with the initially less likeable prince.
But it’s the shape-shifting 300-year-old storytellers who steal the show, particularly when they morph into the roles of the pauper’s older siblings. As the Canty twins, Bette and Nan, Stacey Ghent and Loren O’Dair are absolutely knock out with their cheek and charm. They also put in a shift, playing multiple roles seemlessly. You’d forgive them for getting in a muddle, but not on their watch.
Shout out to Hayden Wood and Anne Marie’s Piazza. Hayden’s King (Henry VIII) is subtle but he comes alive as the ferocious Father Canty. For pure comedy value, Anne Marie’s gold digging Lady Whatsit is a triumph. I wish we had seen more of her. Like a historical footballer’s wife, she had that ‘gagging for it’ greed about her that really tickled me.
Once again, The Watermill has pulled off an super-creative family show – perfect for culture vultures and anyone who wants to dial down the cheese. The cast is small, but ridiculously talented. They act, sing, dance and play instruments. All of them!
I was expecting my little man to get the fidgets, but his eyes were like saucers and he laughed like a drain when Stacey Ghent popped up as the flea bitten talking dog, there to save the day.
In many ways, The Prince and The Pauper is the most Christmassy show, I’ve seen here. It has A Christmas Carol, Dickensian feel, with a happy ever after. Where does it stand among The Watermill’s previous festive productions? It’s not quite my favourite (The Borrowers still has the honour) but it’s right up there as one of the best.
In many ways The Watermill breaks the rules of how to entertain kids, The Prince & The Pauper is a fun way for the family to start jingling all the way to the big day. Book a ticket. you’ll not be disappointed.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Panto haters, culture vultures and families looking for a Christmas show that’s bookish not bonkers.
Not for: Those who love cheesy gags, innuendo and the annual sing-a-long to the 12 Days Of Christmas.
The Prince & The Pauper is on at The Watermill Theatre until Sat 4 Jan.