Review by Hannah Fredriksson
Downstairs at the Maj is the perfect setting for a woke assessment of the problematic aspects of cliché fairytales. Seated at small tables lit by intimate candlelight, the underground venue felt like a speakeasy for defying expectations and subverting societal norms.
We are welcomed to the show by our hosts Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. From the get go we can sense the sass and exasperation of the princesses, as they express their displeasure that the end-game for all of their stories can be summed up with the word ‘marriage’. They perform a quick musical number which sets the tone for the rest of the show, as well as setting the bar incredibly high in terms of vocal ability.
The remaining princesses are introduced one at a time, each highlighting the obscene injustices in their stories. For Belle it is the humiliation of being perceived as insane for communicating with timepieces and crockery (not to mention the bestiality). For Pocahontas it is the cultural appropriation and sexualisation of a historical figure that was actually a child. Even when they lean into the injustices, it is done in such a way that critiques Disney for romanticising parts of the story to be more marketable.
It’s very apparent that this show is incredibly well directed by Lorna Mackie, as every facial expression and gesture is completely purposeful and in character, even in the group numbers where there is a lot going on on the stage. There were points where it seemed that characters came on stage late or missed cues, but this was intentional for comedic effect and it felt human, enchanting the audience with endearing authenticity.
I have no idea how they packed so much talent into this cast of eight – every single one of these girls can SING. There are so many moments where the princesses get carried away with their own vocal gymnastics, only to be roped in by each other not wanting to be out-performed. It’s simultaneously hilarious and very, very impressive. The chemistry between all of the girls was also on-point, resulting in flawless comedic timing throughout the entirety of the show. It felt like the room erupted into laughter several times a minute.
The costumes were also well chosen, being instantly recognisable as an iconic character, yet some pieces looked like they would not be out of place in a shopping centre today, giving them a modern flair to fit the theme of defying tradition.
Disenchanted! is like the ‘tv tropes’ website come to life – the songs lampshade the ridiculous expectations of being a woman, including starving yourself to maintain a thin waistline, having a disproportionately large chest and graciously cleaning the house at any given moment with the assistance of strangely co-operative woodland creatures.
Tonight I gained a new perspective on each of the princesses, from the ridiculousness of them all having American accents despite the majority being from Europe, to their original slightly less-marketable german names, not to mention Rapunzel’s inability to divide people into even groups!
Grey Lantern have put together an unapologetic, sassy and incredibly relevant musical with a stellar cast that had the audience at the Maj both in awe and in stitches. A delightfully irreverent update on the princess stories we know so well.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.