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The Prisoner of Zenda (Bury St Edmunds)

Common Ground Theatre Company's "lovingly tongue-in-cheek" adaptation of Anthony Hope's novel visits the Guildhall in Bury St Edmunds

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Anthony Hope's 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda gave a new word to the English language, Ruritania – that mythical kingdom somewhere in the Balkans where adventures happen.

Common Ground Theatre Company are currently touring their lovingly tongue-in-cheek adaptation around East Anglia. The adaptation is by Julian Harries and Pat Whymark; the latter is also the composer.

The company of five play all the parts, not to mention singing and playing the occasional musical instrument. Charles Davies is the dashing young Englishman who visits Ruritania and is caught up in a palace power struggle, and also his lookalike distant relation King Rudolf and his descendant who wonders what really did happen in that far-away place and those long-ago times.

Alice Mottram as Princess Flavia (and a couple of other women) isn't quite your noble languishing heroine but a feisty young lady who gives as good (or as bad) as she gets. Joseph Leit plays modern Simon's brother (who has inherited the family title), the king's equerry Fritz (duly bespectacled) and a mop-haired Rupert of Henzau.

The femme fatale in all this is Tracy Esler as Antoinette de Mauban; Esler has a strong voice and leads the singing in some style. Harries doubles the play-by-the-rules Colonel Sapt and the villainous Duke Michael, sporting a memorable black wig as the latter and a combination of fire-scuttle helmets and deer-stalker caps as the former.

Making a virtue of financial necessity, the staging is simple, relying on the performances, stylised movements and a selection of props (some hilariously inappropriate) to keep the action going. Yes, it's a send-up, but it's an affectionate one.