• Amy Toledano

Once Upon A Mattress presented by Alces Productions

Image courtesy of Andreas Lambis

What is it?

It is a lively and vibrant musical based on Hans Christian Anderson’s famous Princess and the Pea. Once Upon a Mattress was originally a Tony-nominated Broadway production from 1959 by Mary Rodgers, here interpreted Upstairs at the Gatehouse by Alces Productions.

What is it about?

The search for a Princess for a Royal Prince. In the year 1428 Prince Dauntless (Theo Toksvig-Stewart) longs to be married, but his controlling, difficult Mother Queen Aggravian (Julia Faulkner), does everything in her power to make this difficult! A whole host of princesses are rejected until the story takes a turn at the arrival of the irreverent Princess Winnifred (Beth Burrows). Jesters, wizards, minstrels and a musical band help tell the tale.

How did it make me feel?

Strikingly bold and intricate costumes and carefully executed set design (Giulia Scrimieri) alert the audience to the fact that you are in a medieval world, and allow the cast to make great use of the stage. The moment the band begins to play you know this is a seriously well-done production. The Musical Direction (Jessica Douglas) is so slick that the musicians almost feel a part of the story. The head-bopping of Douglas and the impeccable timing of the entire band, seamlessly ramp up the drama of this unashamedly hilarious and over-the-top music throughout.

Excellent narration and a friendly stage-presence from the Minstrel (Matthew James Willis) introduce us to the magical world of an old fairy tale palace. The dramaescalates when we realise how challenging a person Queen Aggravian (Julia Faulkner) is. Her ability to portray a controlling, even anxious woman makes the performance engaging and surprisingly relatable for a piece of fairy tale musical theatre.

The arrival of the flustered drenched Princess Winnifred (Beth Burrows) who is quite boisterous for a princess (doing things like swimming across a moat), gives the play a hilarious turn, but also a message that the person we least expect might be the best one for the job. Burrows is immensely talented and her ability to hook an audience with her powerful singing, and comedic acting shine through. Let’s just add that the whole thing is impeccably well-cast. Even the mute King Sextimus (Steve Watts) is excellently portrayed with just movements and expressions.

Told in two colourful acts, this is a wonderful piece of well-directed (Mark Giesser) escapism. It is for those who love a good old fashioned camp musical.

Anything Else

I was particularly struck by how well a multi-generational cast worked in this performance. A flamboyant and fun piece of musical theatre, with an age-old message.

Scarlett x

Once Upon A Mattress is playing at Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre until the 29th March 2020.

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