Once Upon a Mattress
Music by Mary Rodgers, Lyrics by Marshall Barer
Book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller & Marshall Barer.
Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Highgate Village, London N6 4BD to 29 March 2020.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm Mat Sun 4pm & Sat 28 March 3pm.
Runs 2hr 25 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8340 3488
Review@ William Russell 7 March.
The delightful but flimsy little musical makes for an undemanding evening, but its interest lies mainly in that it is the one musical composed by Mary Rodgers, the daughter of the great Richard Rogers. She did compose other works but they were mostly for reviews – she also wrote children’s stories, notably Freaky Friday – and said of herself that she “had a pleasant but not an incredible talent.” It is based on the Hans Anderson fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea. It ran for some 244 performance on Broadway in 1959, possibly more out of interest in what the great man’s daughter could do than anything else, and when it came to London the following year in spite of a strong star cast it survived at the Adelphi for only 24 performances – possibly because it really is little more than a pantomime.
Collectors of musicals will probably enjoy it but in spite of a good cast and a first rate band under Jessica Douglas doing full justice to the score Mark Giesser’s production does not use the Gatehouse space to advantage and is hindered by a truly ghastly set which involves several benches and a table, which keep getting shifted about, some peculiar wall hangings on mobile frames and two redundant platforms. The essential bed with 24 mattresses is nowhere to be seen. The best way to stage musicals here, as the regular Christmas musicals demonstrate, is traverse fashion. Giesser has failed to grasp this and the lighting also seems to be aiming in quite different directions from the faces of the cast which are all too often in shadow.
But the cast led by Beth Brown, full of dash and zest, as Princess Winifred the Woebegone, candidate number thirteen to be the bride of Prince Dauntless, played by Theo Toksvig-Stewart, playing a rather good wimp, is strong, can sing and does its very best in the circumstances. The pity is that the circumstances let them down. The story devised by all those writers is that Queen Aggravain (Julia Faulkner doing nasty rather splendidly), having nagged her husband King Sextimus (Steve Watts) into silence, is busily vetoing all the brides for their none too clever son until the resident court hero, Sir Harry (Scott Armstrong stealing the show with the best performance and voice of the night) comes up with Winifred, who turns out to be able to pass all the tests. Aggravain then comes up with the one about the mattresses and the pea. Only a princess would be unable to sleep in a bed under those comfortable conditions and she has drugged Winifred to ensure she sleeps.
There are some lovely songs, especially the ballad In A Little While which Harry gets to sing with Lady Larkin, sung sweetly by Rachel Louise Miller, and the big production number called Normandy. The show has remained popular in America where it is apparently performedregularly by school and community groups but whether it really is worth reviving is dubious. It is not an Into the Woods and, although the lyrics, which are frequently witty, nor is it the sort of sophisticated show Rodgers devised with Hart in the Connecticut Yankee. The star ratings are for the cast, who labour hard, the production probably deserves two. As for the set – if dumped in the street it would probably stay there.
Princess Winifred: Beth Burrows.
Price Dauntless: Theo Toksvig-Stewart.
Queen Aggravain: Julia Faulkner.
King Sextimus: Steve Watts.
Lady Larkin: Rachel Louise Miller.
Sir Harry: Scott Armstrong.
The Jester/Princess 12: Rachel Lea-Gray.
The Minstrel: Matthew James Willis.
Lady Rowena/Nightingale of Samarkand: Courtney Hammond.
Director: Mark Giesser.
Musical Director & Orchestrations: Jessica Douglas.
Choreographer: Chris Whittaker.
Costume & Set Design: Giulia Scrimieri.
Lighting Design: Jess Pomeroy.
Sound Design: Andrew Michie.
Photography: Andreas Lambs.