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Review: The Princess, The Pea (and The Brave Escapee) at ACO

Review by Charlotte Leamon


The Princess and The Pea is a fairy tale we have all heard before. A young princess stumbles upon the doorstep of a Prince amidst a terrible storm. As she settles in for the night, the Queen lays a single pea under twenty mattresses and when the princess exclaims she slept horribly due to the pea the Queen rejoices, for “nobody but a real princess could be as sensitive as that.”

But where did this young princess come from? Why was she out in this most terrible storm? Hang on, does this princess even have a name?! Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer created the origin story titled The Princess, The Pea (and The Brave Escapee) for his ACO Families creation. Turning Hans Christian Andersen’s rather sexist presumption of women being sensitive, Kruckemeyer said it inspired him to, “deduce from her pea-noticing that the princess has these amazing super senses.” ACO presents a story about an adventurous princess named Isabella exploring the world and helping others along the way. Through puppetry, live music and acting, the young children watching this show are sure to be inspired.

Micaela Ellis as Isabella (the mysterious princess) is captivating with her performance. Entering the stage alongside the string quartet consisting of; two violins, viola and cello, she instantly grabs the attention of the kids with her animated voice and actions. Breaking the fourth wall, she invites children to participate with her. Composer Bryony Marks and director Tim McGarry integrate music and set which is elegant and stunning. Using shadow puppetry, water worlds are represented through light and shapes. The audience sees Isabella spend her time swimming in the pond with frogs, and in the ocean with turtles. As she looks at the starry night sky, the floor of the audience is lit with stars and colours. Combining sound and sight in many ways is important for this special audience, as they can lose focus quickly. As they all watch, Ellis clambers around the stage embracing the adventurous and confident princess; much akin to Enola Holmes.

The ACO musicians bring their talents and skills to the stage. Marks composed the music being very aware of the attention span of her listeners. Using playful pizzicato, solemn melodies and rhythmic jazz, moods are elevated throughout the story. The exaggeration of these emotions is helpful for the little ones, as they can begin to see how emotion and music intertwine. In one particular moment Isabella states that the princess was, “really sad.” As the quartet starts playing she further harps, “no really, REALLY sad.” As the melodies became more grave, Ellis is satisfied with just how sad they are and shows the deepest sadness upon her face.

The musicians are here on stage to show the children what these instruments can do. They flaunt each skill as an individual and ensemble, and importantly they are part of the magic. Ellis points out how the instruments can help her, it is an element for Isabella which motivates her when she needs it, as it is for many of us. McGarry’s approach to showcasing these musicians is important in educating the children.

30 minutes is the sweet spot! Much attention and planning allowed the show to be perfectly timed and structured so that the audience can keep attentive for the entire show. I loved seeing their faces light up as the musicians came around to show their instruments and play more for them. This is a wonderful series for children as they become exposed to the wonders of live classical music.

Overall, a beautiful and empowering story embracing feminism in every way. As a story we know as adults, parents enjoy the familiarity of this show. More importantly however, it highlights what Hans Christian did not, which is the adventure behind the princess named Isabella. The addition of lights, set and puppetry is magical. The live ACO musicians are great on stage, elevating emotions and providing lovely timbres and sound for the audience. A magically beautiful story and show, warming the heart as we see a heroine save marine life and live her life the way she wants.

Image Supplied

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