Like many traditional children’s tales, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper has dark undertones and serious messages.
In adapting the story for the New Vic, Theresa Heskins finds imaginative ways to make these elements suitable for a young audience. Cleverly choreographed fight sequences turn violence into comedy and even a potential beheading provides the opportunity for a quick quip.
The Prince and the Pauper tells the story of Prince Edward, son of Henry VIII, who swaps places with his lookalike, Tom Canty, a poor boy from an abusive family. The boys are played by nimble twins Danielle and Nichole Bird, reprising roles previously undertaken at London’s Unicorn Theatre in 2012. Danielle plays Edward as a bumbling, nice-but-dim posh boy while Nichole’s commoner Tom is braver and wilier.
They are joined by a capable cast that together creates the look and feel of Tudor London. Actor-musicians on stringed instruments evoke the atmosphere of a Tudor court and Lis Evans’ costumes in damask and brocade add opulence. Meanwhile, beautifully lit miniature Tudor houses circle the balcony balustrade to establish a twinkling cityscape.
This careful attention to detail is mirrored in the direction. Heskins – who recently directed Danielle Bird in The Worst Witch – uses the New Vic’s in-the-round space to its fullest: chase scenes weave around the auditorium and a maypole dance creates visual splendour. With the aid of an ingenious skirt on wheels, Gareth Cassidy’s sardonic Mary Tudor floats on stage from time to time to add humorous commentary.