The Princess and the Pea

In a lavish palace known to the outside world as ‘The Unicorn Theatre’, there lives a pampered Princess who has everything her heart desires. Each day, three loyal servants attend to her every wish and whim. But one dark and stormy night, she ventures beyond her palace walls and everything changes. When she returns to her home, the colourful ensemble of attendants have had enough of her recklessness and refuse to let her in. Can they come together as a team and find a midground that will apPEAse everyone? 

Our protagonist (Rhiannon Skerritt) is spoiled and stroppy, which is only exacerbated when one of her personal assistants (namely Nathan Johnston) dares to feed her a PEA! She spits it out and throws it away without a second thought, and that's when things start to get mushy… 

Theresa Heskins has adapted this timeless fairy-tale in such an innovative fashion - using magic tricks and acrobatics to dazzle and delight spectators of all ages (as little ones as young as 2 are welcome). Vicki Dela Amedume co-directs this piece of circus skills and surprise spaces by guiding the action not only up in the air, but right out into the audience! A pleasant interruption from the stage management team allows the story to fully encapsulate the whole auditorium.

Contemporary circus company Upswing have interwoven their choreography with the movement of props - mainly mattresses - so effortlessly that it seems natural to be watching them jump into bed via a velvet trampette. This diegetic movement, alongside a script consisting of no more than 2 words and the inherently inclusive nature of the venue, makes The Princess and the Pea accessible for all audiences. BSL signs accompany the minimal spoken content, and the rest of the story is entirely audio-visual. 

The cast of four are phenomenal, and although there are no set breaks for applause between scenes their illusions and tumbles elicit giggles and gasps throughout. Alongside the heavy ensemble focus (for both plotline continuity and health and safety purposes) each actor has an infallible sense of individuality - with shoutouts particularly going to Robert Penny and Danielle Bird.

Someone else who deserves huge credit for this particular element is Laura McEwan, who's costume design is simply perfect. A bright and bold colour is assigned to each of the performers and allows the adults in the room to draw parallels between these hues and their characteristics. Above the general understanding that purple denotes royalty and blue suggests a wise subject, these outfits bring an overall sense of richness and vibrancy to the stage. 

The set and lighting come as a package deal, with Joshie Harriette providing a smooth transition between each location, and accentuating the important aspects of her highnesses chambers. This includes the suspiciously pea-shaped chandelier that hangs above her extravagant bed, complete with tasseled pillow and comfy quilt.

Tayo Akinbode’s seamless score supports the narrative by molding our responses to follow the characters' emotional journeys. This may only be surpassed by the fabulous sound design from Alex Day that sees quirky and amusing foley effects creating a cartoon-like feel - mirrored by the speed of the show, as many things seem to take place in fast forward.

All in all, it's an incredibly imaginative version of the classic tale loved across generations.

This show was reviewed on the 6th June 2024 at the Unicorn Theatre, London where it runs until the 16th June 2024.  Tickets available here: The Princess and The Pea | The Unicorn Theatre

Review written by Katie McConnell


Photo credit: Foteini Christofilopoulou

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