Conceptually, writer Ross Howard was onto a winner, upturning the ever-loved fairytales of old by obscuring the notions of ‘happily ever after’ and true love. Brought to us through the eyes of not one but five Prince Charmings, brothers whose view of these idealisations are so warped that they place a loaded bet that the first to find and marry their princess will be the first to be king. Of course the princesses in question aren’t the sparklingly fresh, bursting into song at the drop of a hat princesses that we’re accustomed to either: there’s a ‘slut’ (Rapunzel played by Zakiyah Rawat), a needy northerner (Cinderella played by Gemma Harvey) and an activist (Snow White played by Antonia Draper) amongst them, and an alcoholic fairy godmother (Felicity Wentzel) to boot. In this modern age of seemingly empty romance, Tinder and anonymous Valentine’s cards, Charming fits in pretty well. The characters, though one-dimensional and misogynistic, are forgivable because they fit the caricatures of their pantomime genre and, on the whole, were well-acted (particularly by Draper and Wentzel). All well and good until you realise that these aspects are like the frilled cravats and brass buttons of their costumes: completely useless unless they are supported, backed up with a backbone of integrity and bones of attention to detail instead of being wrapped in swaddled shoddiness.
The narrative didn’t require an ornate, big-budget set (chance’d be a fine thing) but what it did have needed to be more coherent, in-keeping with the style and era that had been chosen. We were presented with a table messily holding props unarranged and random (a modern Tatler magazine for one), a doorway and a chair. The bare essentials are a blank canvas to use cleverly, but they were insignificant and disregarded. The entrances and exits to the rooms of the castle changed at whim. And when they were opened there was nothing in place to cover the array of props and un-entered actors waiting behind. There were plenty of inconsistencies within the script itself: Rumpelstiltskin (Matthew Needham Winters) is said to have a mole on his face that just isn’t there, and the Fairy Godmother plucks out of thin air the knowledge of her daughter Rapunzel’s pregnancy before she’s heard of it.
The What-A-Charming Theatre Company was born at Royal Holloway University: drama students and creative writing students collaborating, pooling talent and funds to see a project through. I am a huge fan of collaboration and the collision of the like-minded catalysing the creation of something completely new. Where better than uni to create this foundation for the fairytale future success? Charming – A Farcical Fairytale delivers a limp fight; the lacklustre laziness becomes messiness towards the end. We felt more like we were witnessing a drunken SU brawl, than that we’d cottoned on to something new, something big, something exciting. It has so much potential, jam-packed with all the farcical themes that 1 hour can muster, but farce has to be polished to within an inch of its life before it gets silly. The potential for potential is what niggles the most. I’m not angry, just disappointed.
Charming – A Farcical Fairytale is playing the Old Red Lion until 3 January 2015. For more information and tickets, see the Old Red Lion Theatre website.