A Princess Undone at The Park
“It’s not easy being a princess,” sighs Felicity Dean as she sweeps onto the stage in character as HRH The Princess Margaret. That’s as may be, but it’s also not easy to sit through almost two hours of shambling, incoherent drivel, which is – unfortunately – what Jonny Kelly offers up with his latest production.
The concept is initially promising: an examination of the “last great princess” in her more obscure elder years, set in a beautifully designed apartment in Kensington and surrounded by an enthusiastic audience on three sides. Unfortunately for that enthusiastic audience, nothing happens. Not in a Samuel Beckett or Harold Pinter way, where nothing happens but we learn profound truths about the human condition or examine the way societal pressures affect relationships; no, it’s just that nothing happens. The majority of the first half is taken up by the constant bickering between Princess Margaret and her mother’s manservant William, played by Richard Stirling. This would be all well and good if the time was spent exploring their relationship, or the tension was effectively utilised for humour, but despite these being the obvious aims, both fall flat. The script is clunky and repetitive, ensuring that the only thing we learn about these two characters are the things that are already apparent: the princess is arrogant and elitist, and the manservant is subservient and bitter. Their conversation is packed full of attempts at comedy, but they fall into three categories: ancient turns of phrase that are recycled again and again – making the script feel more like a list of epitaphs than a real conversation; stereotypical gay jokes that would feel too cheap even for a pantomime; and genuine flashes of argumentative British humour that peter out when the lines are mumbled, or the timing is missed.
Neither is this sense of cliché helped by other techniques used in the play. Thunder cracks melodramatically before any significant event, Princess Margaret falls into unconvincing hysterics at any mention of a previous lover and Patrick Toomey’s heart-of-gold, wheeler-dealer cockney switches from violent outburst to saccharine sentiment with seemingly no relevance to the actions of the play.
There appear to be the bones of a good production here: William the manservant could provide the required comic relief; John Bindon, the lower-class love interest, could be an interesting exploration of the contradictory relationship between oppressed and oppressor; and Margaret could be a good example of what happens when you are born into a life that promises the world and delivers far less. It’s a pity, then, that A Princess Undone has ended up flat, dull and populated with one-dimensional characters.
Photo: Simon Annand
A Princess Undone is at The Park from 26th February until 17th March 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.