Fairy Tales, Flappers and Fantasy Fun!
Once Upon a Mattress is the Lichfield Garrick Community Musical 2018 and opened its run on Monday night, with the show finishing on Saturday 4 August.
This is the third annual Garrick Community Musical, following The Hired Man and The Dreaming, the cast are made up of over 50 actors from round the local area who all give up their time to take part in the rehearsals and performance, some of the 2018 cast have performed in the earlier productions but many of them are ‘new faces’ to the Garrick, and to acting on stage itself.
The background of the musical certainly has star name quality attached to it: based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, it was a Broadway smash and Tony Award winning show when it opened in the 1960s in the United States, with the American comedienne Carol Burnett in the lead role and the music being composed by Mary Rodgers, daughter of Richard Rodgers of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame.
The musical follows the basic principle of the original Andersen fairy tale; a prince is searching for his princess, however one cannot be found that meets the criteria of his overbearing and strict mother who dispatches them all on varying grounds of unsuitability, but he then meets a princess who he falls in love with. She has to pass a stringent test to prove her suitability which, in this case, is to lie under 20 comfy mattresses when she goes to bed at night while, unbeknown to her, the prince’s cunning mother has placed a single tiny pea at the very bottom of the comfy mattresses. If the princess sleeps soundly throughout the night without feeling the discomfort of the pea she fails the test but if she has a restless, sleepless night she shows her sensitivity meaning she has proved herself to be a true princess and worthy of taking the prince’s hand.
The Garrick Community group places the musical in the 1920s, the time of flappers and jazz music, and cleverly adapts some for the storylines to match the surrounding area – so that the princess moves from living in the Marshlands in the USA version to the Midlands in the Lichfield version!
The musical runs at a lovely pace and there is a super mix of humour, dance and song as well as some life lessons about deceptive appearances, generosity of spirit, warmth and forgiveness so there is plenty to think about as well as to enjoy.
There are some great performances especially from Adam Robinson as nice-but-slightly-dim Prince Dauntless, Ivor Williams as the spellbound-dumb, but not daft, King Sextimus, Alfie Kentesber as the Jester, lovely vocals from Alexander Nicholls as the Minstrel who guides us through the musical plots, Elliot Scott-Lolley as the dashing Sir Harry and Lauren Sutherland as Lady Larkin with another strong singing performance. There are also two cameo performances from Zephan Rowe and Nathan Wallace as two cheeky young pages with some nifty dance moves.
However, in the year that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave women the vote for the first time, it is appropriate that the two standout performances are from two strong female parts and performers. Julie Roche as the bossy, opinionated, molly-coddling mother and potential mother-in-law from hell, Queen Aggravain, is superb throughout, her face permanently twisted in an imperious sneer as she delivers putdowns and insults with unerring accuracy. Rebecca Mills is also fantastic as the feisty and fearless Princess Winnifred (or Fred as she is known), taking on all comers including swimming the moat of the castle, lifting up courtiers, arm-wresting the prince and locking horns with the queen. Although small in stature she is definitely big on talent, with a fine singing voice, great comic timing (her moat ‘swimming’ is very funny and worthy of Messrs Sam Rabone and Ben Thornton, the ‘kings of slop’ at the Garrick pantomine) and with considerable stage presence, definitely one to watch for the future.
The ensemble pieces are all very well done, when all the actors are on stage in their brightly coloured 1920s costumes there is a fantastic feel good feeling and, fittingly, a true community feel and spirit about the production. The finger snapping, hand clamping foot stomping Song of Love, and the Spanish Panic are both great songs and show off the whole cast at their best.
The costumes, with wardrobe by Ian Smith and Danielle Knight, are fabulous and ever changing, creating the 1920s feel perfectly, the lighting by Anna Reddyhoff complements the costumes and set perfectly and the orchestra, with musical direction by Angharad Sanders, is first class. It is nice to be able to ‘see’ the orchestra in this performance as they are at the back of the stage rather than in the orchestra pit, it’s fascinating to see how the director coordinates the music with the dialogue and scene changes.
Set design is very effective with an impressive rising tower of mattresses and the water-less moat is very cleverly done, with sound effects to match and no danger of anyone slipping on the spilled water!
The director is Emily Summers who performed at the Garrick in her youth and returns to direct her first show at the theatre. It is a dream debut as the show runs very smoothly and slickly and, bearing in mind this a Community group brought together to perform just once a year, creates a fantastic feel and team spirit. Before the main musical, she also directs a ‘taster’ performance of The Shadow, another short Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, performed beautifully by The Upstagers, an integrated performing arts group who meet and rehearse at the Garrick.
This is a fun musical, with a very talented cast and crew, who put their heart and soul into the production and, although some of the cast are highlighted individually above, every single one of the 50 strong cast and all of the crew in the background deserve a lot of credit and definitely deserved the extended applause from the audience at last night’s show.
The Once Upon a Mattress Community Musical is on in the main theatre at the Lichfield Garrick, until Saturday 4 August 2018. Performances start at 7.30pm nightly with a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm.
Ring 01543 412121 to book tickets or book online at: www.lichfieldgarrick.com