Book & Lyrics by Phil Willmott.
Music by Phil Willmott & Mark Collins.
The Finborough Theatre to 22 April
118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED to 22 April 2016.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 842 1652.
Review: William Russell 3 April.
An enchanting musical about lovers, liars and a maiden in distress
Phil Willmott’s tuneful score for Princess Caraboo s terrific, his book, a variation on a true tale about a housemaid who fooled Regency London into thinking she was a Princess from a strange island called Caraboo and was feted by society until exposed, is gripping. It also has something worth saying about people believing what they want to believe, rare for a musical book.
But it is too big a show for the pocket sized Finborough stage and feels clumsy and cramped at times. To some extent, director, Phil Willmott may be at fault, other directors working there have managed to fit quart measures into the theatre’s pint pot. With only two means of getting on and off stage the Finborough space, apart from being small, is fiendishly difficult to use when it comes to musicals. And Caraboo cries out for a larger home.
It is perhaps fair to say what we get is to some extent a work in progress in that this is not the definitive staging. The book also needs tightening and it could do with another big ballad for Caraboo and Eddie, the painter who loves her.
But these are quibbles. I Am My Own Person and Truth, the jazzy company number which opens the second act, are knock out show tunes by anybody’s standards and the show does enchant and enthral. Willmott’s decision to give Princess Caraboo, which originated at the Bristol Old Vic several years ago but never managed to take wing for all the usual reasons, another outing has paid off.
This is a really good musical play, all the more impressive because Willmott, apart from directing it, is its begetter as writer and composer, the latter with Mark Collins. I am not totally convinced by the cod framing – the landowner who first mistook the girl as a foreign princess delivers a lecture on lies and how one lie leads to another with sometimes totally unexpected results using Caraboo’s life to illustrate his case, her story being performed by the servants in his household.
Nikita Johai is a delightfully sly and devious Caraboo. She may be surviving on her wits, but the alternative is too awful to contemplate; Christian James as Eddie, who rumbles her early on, paints her portrait and falls in love with her, is a suitably impetuous youth; and Sarah Lawn and Phil Sealey as the kindly Worralls, who launch Caraboo’s career anchor it beautifully. Princess Caraboo is a first rate addition to the Finborough’s long list of musicals, in some cases rescued from oblivion, and in this case saved from being consigned there.
Princess Caraboo: Nikita Johai.
Eddie Harvey: Christian James.
Sir Charles Worrall: Phil Sealey.
Lady Elizabeth Worrall: Sarah Lawn.
Lord Marlborough: Oliver Stanley.
Osvaldo Agathias: Joseph O’Malley.
Mrs Catesby: Rebecca Ridout.
Hatty: Hilary Murnane.
Richard: Ruben Kuppens.
Betty: Althea Burey.
Director: Phil Willmott.
Musical Director: Freddie Tapner.
Choreographer: Thomas Michael Voss.
Lighting Designer: Jack Weit.
Set Designer: Toby Burbidge.
Costume Designer: Penn O’Gara.
Orchestration and Arrangements: Mark Collins.