THE BIRTHDAY OF THE INFANTA
by Oscar Wilde.
Trestle Unmasked Tour to 8 May 2011.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 March at Unicorn Theatre (Clore Theatre) London.
Inventive Birthday offering.
How brave the Victorians could be compared with nowadays. Virtually any modern playwright writing for 9+ would provide at least a half-way (and probably all-the-way) happy ending. Or at least some kind of resolution. But not Oscar Wilde, whose fairytale forms the basis of this play. They might have covered their piano legs for decency, but the Victorians could take a stern dose of rejection and death on the chin.
Certainly, there’s a smear of sentimentality over it all, despite this clear retelling from Trestle Unmasked. The fun and party-time audience involvement, plus the skilled multi-part playing of Georgina Roberts, lead to a surprising conclusion, a coda to the party’s comic climax, where the strange little charcoal-burner’s boy tries to visit the princess at whose birthday he’s danced, only to be brought face-to-face with his own ugliness (no question of being differently handsome in those days).
The Infanta’s twelve today, and feelings of what it’s like to be that age are solicited from young audience members. As Roberts varies narration in her own voice with a range of character parts, including a class-conscious vocalisation of different flowers, she prepares the audience to greet the Infanta on her birthday, the one day a year she’s allowed to meet non-royals. The lifestyle shows in Robert’s face and voice, both too precious to be sullied by contact, as the Infanta enters in the suggestion of a giant crinoline, its bare hoops exposing the emptiness of her life.
As we toot trumpets, sing her name and, in self-selected cases, bring her the artificial flowers we’ve just learned to make, everything’s fun. But though mask experts Trestle claim to be unmasked here there are animal heads, an ingenious suggestion of tightrope walking, then following various entertainments, the surprise arrival of the ingeniously mask-based charcoal-burner’s son from the other end of society, his dance built on the innocence he’s about to lose.
It takes all Roberts’ considerable energy to draw something of a veil over the story’s hierarchic and sentimental aspects, but she and inventive director Emily Gray (with, doubtless, dramaturg Carl Miller) are surprisingly successful.
Performer: Georgina Roberts.
Director: Emily Gray.
Designer: Jean Chan.
Lighting: Anna Watson.
Sound/Composer: Lauence Kaye.
Choreographer: Ramon Baeza.
Dramaturg: Carl Miller.