At the press night of the Unicorn Theatre's Christmas show The Prince and the Pauper there were dozens of excited critics with some very vocal opinions - the children that made up most of the audience.
The classic tale by Mark Twain tells the story of pauper Tom Canty and Prince Edward who meet and swap clothes, but then are mistaken for each other and forced to swap lives until they can prove their true identities. This version has been brilliantly adapted by Jemma Kennedy
and directed by Selina Cartmell.
Tom and Edward are played excellently by spritely twins Danielle Bird and Nichole Bird. Other stand-out cast members include a hilarious Jason Morell as Bet/Elizabeth, Nicholas Boulton as Henry VIII/John Canty and Jake Harders as archetypal hero Miles Hendon and a lute-playing storyteller who ties the story neatly together between scenes, making it easier for a young audience to follow. Music, directed and composed by Antony Elvin, is a big part of the show with catchy refrains sung and played on a range of instruments by the cast themselves throughout the performance.
The Unicorn is a vibrant and engaging children's theatre. Its appealingly modern building is filled with fun, quirky details such as illustrations on the walls and a carpeted corner complete with sofas and books, as well as an interactive area with a play-specific activity to get stuck into (during this play children were invited to make a pomander, an alleged prevention method against the plague, which gets plenty of mentions in the show). This is a theatre that goes beyond the play itself to give guests a thoroughly fun and enriching experience.
The minimal, abstract set by Garance Marneur is a nice contrast to the explosion of all things Tudor. The movable white blocks that frame the story contain windows, levels, stairs and curtains as the actors play inside them rather than just around. As well as this a handful of coordinating set pieces - a throne, a banquet table, a portable window, a ladder (all white and minimal) provide a necessity while leaving it to the actors to create a realistic Tudor atmosphere, which they do marvelously well.
The second act is long and at times feels slightly contrived as the loose ends of the story need to be tied up. However, many hilarious moments ensue along the way and a joyous ending awaits.
The mentions of the plague, beheadings, hangings, floggings, prisoners and the origins of the pineapple in England are delivered with the same dark humour as in CBBC’s hugely successful Horrible Histories – if your children are fans they will lap up the comedy in this production. But the show is not just for kids; the plot centers on misunderstandings and mistaken identity provides genuine laugh-out-loud humour for all ages, and the class issues in the play are still relevant today. A fun (and educational) evening out for the whole family, The Prince and the Pauper is a must-see this Christmas.