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A CurtainUp London Review
Phil Willmott and Mark Collins' boutique musical takes some acceptable liberty with the true story and gives the princess an admirer and a romance with Eddie Redmayne lookalike Christian James playing Eddie Harvey, who painted her. She is also courted by the caddish Lord Marlborough (Oliver Stanley).
The musical is framed as a country house entertainment in the home of Sir Charles Worrall (Phil Sealey) and his kindly wife Lady Elizabeth Worrall (Sarah Lawn). The parts in Sir Charles' entertainment are taken by the family and the domestic servants.
The moral of Sir Charles' play is how a lie can become a great lie if people of importance give it credence. It is also a vindication as to why his wife, their only child having died some years earlier, shows such compassion to the princess waif with a sailor explaining her story. Osvaldo Agathius (Joseph O'Malley) says that he understands some of her language and that she was a princess who escaped from priates who kidnapped her. But later his inside knowledge is used against her.
The smallness of the space restricts some of the possible choreography but Thomas Michael Voss has some expressive scenes: the ball which ends with the princess teaching others some decidedly native dance. I liked also the whole cast dancing with their hands in a set piece of narrative.
Princess Caraboo was originally intended for the much larger Bristol Old Vic in a commissioned project that lost funding but Phil Willmott has adapted it to the Finborough space. The songs vary in style. The princess's stand out song, "My Own Person", closes the first act. This anthem to her independence is delivered with startling self awareness and honesty. The second opens with the jazzy "The Truth is Stranger than Fiction" as Sir Charles illustrates how we all lie to some extent. There is poignancy when Princess Caraboo describes the circumstances that found her in the workhouse pregnant and abandoned by her lover.
Nikita Jamal is a sweet faced princess who acts for most of the first half without speech but using her eyes and body, and she can belt out the songs. The believable cast bring many different roles to life in this enjoyable production which has the realistic thread of an interesting story from history about the whimsical nature of celebrity.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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