As the Spirit of the Mirror makes clear, “once upon a time…” doesn’t necessarily lead you down a familiar path at all. David Lambert’s new show premiered by the Norwich Theatre Royal Junior Arts Course may owe its genesis to the Grimm Brothers’ tale, but you can forget about any Disneyfication. There’s even a hat-tip of salute to Dickens and Oliver Twist. Not to mention Tennyson’s The Princess (albeit in the G & S version).
We begin in a late 19th century orphanage, a more kindly place than some of its ilk. A new matron, Miss Taylor, is being introduced to the Board of Governors and her charges. These youngsters have been accustomed to bedtime stories, so Miss Taylor attempts to oblige. But the girls are fed up with fairies and the boys definitely want robbers and blood galore.
The well-known story then takes on a life of its own. The wicked stepmother, Morgana – now, there’s a name to conjure with – has been a court attendant on the Queen of Florin and wheedles her way into marriage with the bereaved King, and custody of his motherless daughter in preference to the more diplomatic alliances proposed for him. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Pfennig, the feminist Queen is disgusted to have given birth to a mere boy.
As the children of the orphanage demand, there are robbers a-plenty in the forest into which Morgana dismisses the now teenage Snow White. Meantime, Prince Florizel – not to mention his one ally, his groom Hilarion – is sick and tired of being the butt of his mother’s sarcasms. Lambert and his co-choreographer Cat Chapman keep the action moving with a sequence of catchy song-and-dance numbers, accompanied by keyboard and woodwind led by Charlie Caine.
Florizel (Charlie Knowlton-Rayner) and Snow White (Grace Durbin]) each have an attractive ballad, in both cases very well put over. There’s a foot-tapping waltz for the finale as well. Kirsty Hobson is a commanding as well as shimmering Spirit and Eleanor Robinson is properly malevolent as Morgana, though her singing voice at times lets her excellent characterisation down. You can see why Bethany Gregory’s Miss Taylor was the orphanage governors’ preferred candidate.
When you think that these youngsters aged between eight and 20 are embarked on a seven-day run with matinee performances thrown in, that many of them are on-stage throughout, that there are a great number of movements (Lambert’s setting of giant-sized books requires entrances and exits involving stairs), as well as words to master and deliver – then you realise that the next generation of professional performers is already knocking at the dressing-room doors of the present incumbents.