The princess. Often in fairy-tales they have been the rescued, the man obsessed with nothing in place of a Bechdel Test. The world has since moved on and this brand-new dance piece from Stuart Saint seeks to ‘find the feminism in Disney’ and release it centre stage.
Loosely, this ‘gig theatre’ piece follows a familiar idea: a girl with aspirations to be a princess is led by a white rabbit into a strange new world. Episodic versions of stories that would be familiar to our own pasts are reformed into twisted, nightmare version of themselves. If this idea sounds familiar it is already a somewhat dated trope. Fringe Festivals around the UK are full of dark versions of Alice in Wonderland, fairy tales and all manner of storybook tales. For this to succeed, it needs to bring something new to the genre.
In this regard, Saint aims high. With an interesting video design, displayed through TVs downstage centre and hanging high above, linking up with an original soundtrack to create a fascinating feel. The production is dynamic in staging and there is nice variation in tone and idea, from simpler large fabric dresses that cover the cast through to jagged robotic figures. The problem is these ideas are rarely linked and the plot is almost impossible to grasp. Whilst interesting things happen, this is all they do, happen. Disconnected scenes burst and flow into each other, but with seemingly no real readable character progression to make us care.
The movement itself is throughout smooth and fluid, aided by a team of talented dancers who maintain energy and precision. Onyemachi Ejimofor and Helen Scott stand out, with Ejimofor’s ‘Granola’ powerful and mischievous, the latter’s ‘Little Green Fairy’ growing increasingly dislocated with the amorous world surrounding her. Jenny Dickie is an engaging lead, however without this comprehension of plot there is little to empathise with. There are also demonstrable moments she spends searching for the next move during some of her choreography, which removes a further layer of immersion for the audience.
Saint’s compositions have a nice sense of momentum to them and complement the ensemble nicely. The 80s sound, inspired by the likes of Depeche Mode, is clear and refreshing to hear, powered by a dynamic lighting design from Pete Ayres. However, the pre-recorded soundtrack serves to make a vast chunk of the lyrics unintelligible. Adding to this, the presence of a single male voice for much of the songs distances them from the action on stage. Without the ability to attach them to certain characters, it adds to the atmosphere of loud meaningless action.
Above all the lights, the music, the sound, the work, everything to gaze at, there is an unfortunately hollowness inside the detail of this production. An incoherent plot fuelled by a somewhat dated idea serves to make this piece rather much ado about nothing. This is a shame due to the obvious talent of those within this production, and with a further focus towards clarity of plot and dramatic action, there could be something here. Without, we leave with little more than we had before.
Princess played at the LOST Theatre until 19/11/16. For more information see The LOST Theatre website.
Photo: Aidan Orange Photography