‘Once Upon a Mattress’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by April 6, 2017

‘Once Upon a Mattress’ is a musical comedy for children of all ages 5 to 90. It is based upon Jay Thompson and Dean Fuller’s adaptation and extension of the much-loved story, ‘The Princess and The Pea’. Mary Rodgers later added the lively musical score, with the lyrics by Marshall Barer.

Laughing Horse Productions is a non-profit community group based in Perth. Here, Laughing Horse presents this youth production in a community partnership with the Koorliny Arts Centre. It is wonderful to see Kwinana and Koorliny actively encouraging and supporting various aspects of local theatre.

This is an ideal show for young children going to the theatre for their first time, being filled with colour and mad antics. It can be seen in the main theatre (1), at the Koorliny Arts Centre, on the corner of Gilmore Avenue and Sulphur Road, Kwinana.

The two-hour performances are at the slightly earlier time of 7.00 pm on Friday and Saturday evenings, until the 22nd April. There are matinées at 1.00 pm on Saturday the 8th and the 15th April.

 

With a cast of 27, all between the ages of 8 and 18 (though some look older, they are indeed in this age group), Production Manager, Kelly Salathiel has wisely enrolled a Cast Manager / child wrangler, Rach Hayter. Rach ensures that the cast enter the stage fired up. Often with youngsters, they wander onto the stage followed by a few seconds delay as they orientate themselves. This cast were well tuned and perfectly rehearsed, with a huge amount of energy.

The scene is a Mediaeval Castle on the south coast of England in about 1430. The set was realistic, with grey textured stonework. The castle wall had two doors, a brick fireplace and a dungeon cell. Attached to the front edge of the stage apron were the family shields of each knight. Centre stage was a rotating platform with a two plush thrones. This unit could revolve to reveal the Princess’s bedroom – thanks to the strength of Stage Manager, Nay Bickford.

The stunning costumes were beautifully made. The designs were authentic and the tailors, Diana Oliver, Leanne Montebello, Peta Har Paz, Jodie Sweetman, Kelly Salathiel and Helen Steele, took no shortcuts.

Koorliny’s technical staff, under the experienced eye of Alex Coutts-Smith, supplied the high quality sound and lighting.

 

        As the lights dimmed, a wandering minstrel (Phillippa Bialas) entered the stage from the auditorium. He explained how the bullying, loudmouthed Queen Aggravain (Emmalee Bialas) and her mute husband, King Sextimus the Silent (Lachlan Felstead) had banned all marriages until their wimpy son, Prince Dauntless the Drab (Lincoln Tapping) had found a suitable Princess.

       The Queen tries everything to stop her son marrying and leaving home. She gives the Wizard (Lawson Sweetman) various tests for potential princesses, all designed to ensure their failure. Princess candidate, number 12 (Jaime Bialas) failed on the final, impossible question despite help from Sir Studley (Evan Swallow), Lady Rowena (Charli-Piper Scott) and Lady Merryl (Luna Har Paz).

       One of the knights, Sir Harry (Felix Camponovo) is very much in love with Lady Larken (Bethany Tandy), but they too are not allowed to marry until after the Prince. Gathering his most loyal knights (Alex Smith, Lachlan Hinton, Dempsey Sweetman, Luke Newman, Blake Taaffe and Joshua Vickery), Sir Harry decides to travel afar, in search of likely Princesses. Lady Larken is heartbroken at being left behind and is consoled by her friends, Lady Beatrice (Anastacia Dawes) and Lady Lucille (Mikayla Wyartt). The King, who has no affection from the Queen, simply chases women, especially the Kitchen Maid (Ireland Dehner).

        Although the Ladies in Waiting (Lili Mae Thoms and Jemma Hunwick) enjoy the antics of the Jester (Gabriella Munro), the Queen remains miserable. Soon Sir Harry returns with a suitable love for Prince Dauntless; she is not a dainty delicate girl, but a tough nut who decides to swim the moat. She is Princess Winnifred ‘Fred’ the Woebegone (Paige Montebello) with her friend, a sweet French maid, Lady Mabelle (Amalea Lawrence). Some Ladies in Waiting (Isla Sweetman, Haylee-Jade Taaffe) are at hand to help ‘Fred’ dry out after her swim.

     Will Fred pass the tests and become a Princess Bride, or will she too be banished?

 

Jodie Sweetman assisted director, Adam Salathiel and the challenge they faced was massive, with only a few of the actors being from a dance or acting school. Their caring attention and handling paid off, they imparted the fun of the musical and how to work as a team. The children glowed, they were obviously enjoying every second – a sign of respect and admiration for their teachers. Children who have been bullied into shape always look disinterested and flat. Even the members of the chorus and ensemble put a huge effort into their performances.

Musical Director, Paul Lawrence Olsen has a great deal of experience with theatrical musical productions. Normally Paul and his band play the live music, but here he has used the CD supplied by the play’s copyright group – sounds easy, until you realise that he had to work closely with the choreographer, as well as train 27 kids to sing the musical’s wonderful, catchy songs in unison. There were several beautiful voices, perfectly projected with clarity; especially well done, Paige Montebello and Gabriella Munro, both with superb stage presence. Even when the chorus was in full action, I noted that the youngsters tucked away at the side or back of the stage, were still giving their all.

Zoe Jay’s choreography also included general movement and stagecraft. The youngsters moved rapidly and confidently to their positions. There were a few impressive solo dances, but the Spanish routine at the close of Act 1 had the audience exhausted just watching. This fast tricky routine included high kicking, River Dance and German beer cellar thigh and calf slapping. Thank goodness, the actors had the Interval to recover. In Act 2, there was another major, powerful dance routine requiring the cast to sing and dance, which they did without missing a beat.

This musical was a gigantic challenge, but it is executed magnificently, and the result is pure magic, perfect for all children from kindy up.

Many congratulations to all concerned. The Final Rehearsal even had autograph hunters waiting after the show.