The ever-fabulous Watermill Theatre gets in the Christmas spirit with their annual literary adaptation. With hints of pantomime (there’s some audience participation, but not a dame or a ‘he’s behind you’ in sight) this year they take on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, an apt parable of class division and poverty well-timed for 2019. The story follows a young prince and a pauper, who switch places, leading them each to receive a reality check about their lives.
An endearing ensemble of six bring a lyrical verve to this adaptation, once again showing the Watermill Theatre to be one of the finest venues for singer-performer-led shows. David Fallon and Tendai Rinomhota make charming, winning leads, bringing the audience along through the twists and turns of their extraordinary situation. Stacey Ghent and Loren O’Dair each have moments to shine, taking on multiple parts, including as narrators, as the world spins around the prince and the pauper. Anne-Marie Piazza is an amusing presence, slightly undone by a confusingly-written part, but nevertheless stealing most of her scenes. And Hayden Wood makes an authoritative, surprisingly likeable father figure. These six bring an energy to the intimate theatre space they’re in, and the strongest moments of this production are when it cuts loose, relying on its talented cast. The Prince and the Pauper is particularly strong in its second half, once it has firmly established the central switch of the narrative, throwing in a few welcome random elements.
Director Abigail Pickard Price brings a dynamism that was also present in her previous Watermill production, Burke and Hare, managing an effective adaptation (from Chinoyerem Odima, with music and lyrics from Tarek Merchant). A cleverly-constructed set from Katie Lias (with a great cityscape at the back, and a pair of adaptable towers) gives room for Claira Vaughan’s smooth choreography. There’s even a terrific dog puppet, courtesy of Nicholas Willsher. This is another slick production, keeping up the standards one would expect from the Watermill Theatre (particularly from their festive adaptations).
What this adaptation lacks is a certain wintry bite, missing any real antagonist. Lady Whatsit initially feels like a possible villain, but this soon fades away, lost in the shuffle of setting up the lives of the Prince and Tomasina. In its place is a message that is endearingly noble, with this adaptation climaxing on a transformative note that brings a degree of relevance to the show.
The Watermill Theatre end the year with another endearing charmer of a show. I was lucky enough to watch the show alongside an audience packed with school children (the intended audience) and it went down a treat, with a number of laugh-out-loud moments. While I may have wanted some more bite to it, I can’t fault a slick, skilful production that plays to the intimate venue's strengths.