Imagine a Brechtian pantomime crossed with the ever-irreverent Horrible Histories. You can’t fault this version of The Prince and the Pauper for originality.
Selina Cartmell’s take on Mark Twain’s famous Tudor role-swapping tale of Prince Edward and Tom Canty, who happen to look alike, has identical twins in the two title roles which makes perfect sense of the mistaken identity. Danielle and Nichole Bird are both engaging actors whose voice work fully supports their identities.
The talented cast of eight play instruments and all the other roles and sing narrative songs which hold the piece together. We get freeze frames, exaggeration and delicious quasi-Shakespearean curses, lines such as “mad as a bag of wet hens”, jokes like barricade building to the Les Mis music and punning on words. It is both fast and funny. There’s a lot of Propeller-style cross-gender casting. Jason Morell is great fun as Lady Elizabeth especially in the hammed up camp song in the second half and Katherine Toy is good value as the Chancellor on a scooter.
Congratulations to Garance Marneur for the ingenious giant cotton reel of a set. It has two semi-circular wings which open to reveal, for example, Henry VIII’s bedroom or Westminster Abbey while providing niches, alcoves and balconies both inside and out. And the auditorium is configured to provide the cast with an extra walkway and to bring some of the audience further forward than usual. Yet another example of the freshness and imagination we’ve come to expect from Unicorn since Purni Morell took over as artistic director last year.