Review by Daz Gale
Have you ever imagined what would happen if you could travel through a multiverse of Shakespeare plays, causing havoc and changing the course of history? Perhaps not. But the good news is somebody has as that is the intriguing premise of The Prince. Think &Juliet without the Max Martin songs. Sound like a recipe for disaster? The phrase “Never judge a book by its cover” springs to mind.
The Prince sees Jen (Mary Malone) find herself trapped in a world of Shakespeare plays where she meets Sam (Joni Ayton-Kent). Together, they try to navigate their situation to find a way out and perhaps set the other characters free along the way. Think of it like Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness meets Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure but with a lot of Shakespeare. And if you think that sounds weird, well… it is. But it’s weirdly wonderful.
Written by Abigail Thorn, The Prince is mostly set in the confines of Henry IV Part One though Hamlet does make a brief appearance in act two. Though smatterings of Shakespeare’s original verse is present, the majority of the writing is original. The fact it is hard to tell what is Shakespeare and what is new at certain moments is the testament to how fantastic the writing really is. The dialogue is brought bang up to date thanks to our two travellers who are very much in modern times, replying to Shakespearean dialogue with words like “Babe” and “Mood”. Throughout the play, as they try to corrupt their fellow actors, they too break into more modern dialect in an extremely unique and often hilarious result.
There is far more to The Prince than meets the eye with the theme of gender identity prominent throughout. Repeatedly referencing the roles of men and women have in plays, and the wider world, it takes a beautiful and sincere look at finding your own truth, none more so than in the journey of Hotspur, played by writer Abigail Thorn. Subtle in its approach as Jen tries to make her accept who she truly is, it is played out with a sense of sensitivity and authenticity. it is easy to draw comparisons to the recent I, Joan at Shakespeare's Globe. While that show may not have quite reached the brilliance of its premise, The Prince has no shortcomings to speak of.
The beautiful and authentic nature in which the story plays out is achieved in part due to a majority trans cast playing the roles, and what a phenomenal cast they are. Mary Malone is full of charisma as Jen displaying beautiful chemistry with Joni Ayton-Kent who gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Sam. Tianna Arnold is an undoubted standout as Lady Kate whose own character journey is mesmerising to watch, while Corey Montague-Sholay shines as Prince Hal. It is Abigail Thorns Hotspur where the emotional depth comes from as she takes the audience on an emotional journey with her, ensuring we have all fallen in love with her character by the end of the play.
While it is full of heart, it is also wickedly funny. Lines such as cis people in Shakespeares world changing their pronouns every 2 minutes and an unexpected Andrew Lloyd Webber joke were among some of the biggest reactions of the night. If seeing a show called The Prince on the day of the Queens funeral may have felt a bit near to the knuckle (especially given what a ghost town London was like on the way to the theatre), a line asking why we have a hereditary monarchy took that awkwardness and kicked it out of our minds, to a pretty huge response.
The beauty of this show is its ability to make you laugh at a witty one-liner one moment and then stop to think at a more serious line the very next second. This is always played out naturally though thanks to the genius of the writing.
Directed by Natasha Rickman, there aren’t many bells and whistles to this production as the characterisation is all that is needed, save from a couple of minimalistic props. A good use of lighting from Martha Godfrey and an inspired use of sound from Rodent creates a well-rounded production, which is satisfying to watch in every aspect.
On paper, The Prince might not sound like much. I personally didn’t have the highest expectations for it. Let me tell you, I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the moment several minutes in the character of Jen chimed in that she couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying, followed by “Bloody Hell. I hate Shakespeare” I was won over. I then spent the next two hours completely gripped by the play and the importance of the story that was being told. In a world where trans people find themselves at the centre of so much hostility, the story of finding your own identity, embracing it and having it embraced by others felt even more poignant.
With sensational writing and a fantastic cast, The Prince is an absolute revelation – a true King among plays. Carrying with it a powerful message, it has a surprising amount of depth. Perhaps not quite perfect yet but I have no doubt this is a play that is going to go on to bigger and better things. While the characters may spend the duration trying to escape the confines of the play, one thing I knew for sure is this was one play I didn’t want to escape from.
The Prince plays at Southwark Playhouse until October 8th. Tickets from southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
Photos by Mark Senior