Once upon a time, a prince overcame a challenge to win the heart and hand of a beautiful princess. However, duty and love don’t always go together. Take Prince Warwick, in the musical The Prince’s Quest, who’s sent by his parents to meet all the princesses in the land with a view to marry on his upcoming 21st birthday, only to find that what he really wants is His-and-His ermines for the special day.
I attended the adult version of show which, in hindsight, has a somewhat alarmist age 18 recommendation. Some matinees are presented as a shorter, family-friendly performance that tones down the lustiness or (already very mild-mannered) princely affection. I think kids might have done well for themselves out of this arrangement as at around two hours of performance time, the core of the adult version’s script was crying out for a champion to rescue it. There were also some technical matters to resolve, such as singers being lost in the backing track, performers frequently unlit and some sluggish scene changes which the company would do well to remedy.
I was hoping for a story more along the lines of Shrek and found the often goofy humour not as snappy as I would have liked. For example, having Prince Warwick (Leighton Irwin) riding around the countryside on his hobby horse with mouth open in childlike glee was amusing initially, but fairly quickly became an overdone ploy that slowed the pace, as did the interaction between Warwick and the narrator. Likewise, it was obvious pretty quickly that most of the princesses were unsuitable for Warwick, and the detail of their life stories often didn’t advance the plot.
When Warwick (eventually) meets his love Prince Sam (Leigh Roncon), we start to get to the real story: how can Warwick return to his parents with Sam when they are expecting a princess? Their resort to concealment rather than admitting reality leads to the song “If you hide yourself, you lose yourself” (from composers Rosie Burgess and Carl Lundgren), one of the more incisive and integrated interludes of the piece.
There were some particular moments to enjoy. Green-skinned, black velvet clad Tina Pappasavvas added welcome raucousness as the libidinous Witch Ivy, keen on snaring any prince who happened to walk by. Sam’s attempts to dress like a woman and walk in heels showed just how ridiculous it is to pretend to be something you’re not. Princess Emily (Bailey Thomson) raised in the disciplines of a prince and a princess showed she’s not to be messed with, and really should have had the opportunity to demonstrate her Kung Fu skills on someone.
Flaws aside, the characters’ example of being true to oneself makes The Prince’s Quest a commendable challenge to the heteronormative world of fairy tales.