Princess Caraboo review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘exceptionally entertaining’
The true story of servant Mary Baker’s masquerade as the exotic Princess Caraboo makes an amusing footnote in English history.
Phil Willmott’s engaging musical uses this story to explore themes of class, gender and social identity while maintaining a playful respect for the post-Napoleonic War period. The music, written with Mark Collins, favours a lively modern/jazz blend and there are several lusty ballads, which lend depth to the romantic sub-plot.
Willmott’s witty book frames the narrative as an amateur scientific lecture, although there is nothing dry or dusty about this presentation. In fact an overwhelming sense of bonhomie permeates, generated by bombastic villains, a kindly country squire and a simple heroine fooling everybody in an attempt to make something of her life.
Touching and often downright hilarious performances from Oliver Stanley, Phil Sealey and Sarah Lawn help flesh out Willmott’s whimsical vision of a Merry England. Christian James as Eddie and Nikita Johal in the title role seal the deal with a thoughtful but far-from formulaic romance.
Despite the limitations of space, Thomas Michael Voss infuses the action with some spritely choreography. In 2014, Willmott’s Lost Boy deservedly transferred to a larger stage and if there is any justice Princess Caraboo will do the same.