ONCE UPON A MATTRESS

North Shore Light Operatic Society, at Presentation House, until May 28

Photo Credit: Michelle Koebke,

Diamond's Edge Photography

My Two Pence

Once Upon A Mattress is the delightful retelling of a Princess and the Pea, with a twist.  Mary Rodgers' pantomime-esque musical introduces us to the unconventionally rambunctious Princess Winnifred “Fred” the Woebegone, whose electrifying personality wins you over the moment she enters the scene.  

 

NSLOS’s production of this fun musical of the late 1950’s was utterly charming.  Whilst there were some unpleasant aspects, the show was saved by some outstanding performances and elements which utterly blew me away.  Despite the varying range, there is an attention to detail put lovingly into this show which makes for a feel-good experience and therefore recommended for all to see.

 

The appeal of this show isn’t immediately obvious until the audience encounters our heroine, played by Karin Atkinson, who marvellously elevates the energy, presenting a lively and amusing redefinition of what it takes to be a lady.

 

The reason to see this show is James Lowe, who plays the Jester.  Lowe is an excellent actor, being highly expressive, very intentional and brings life and enthusiasm into this role.  His physical presence was enormous and demonstrated an impressive dancing aptitude. This magnificence culminated in a spectacular tap-dance rendition of “Very Soft Shoes”.  I was at the edge of my seat, my heart racing with pure joy over this incredible choreographed magic, courtesy of Damon Jang. The original routine, reminiscent of Cary Grant, was inventive and beautifully performed.  I wish I could relive it and I hope that others get the opportunity to.

 

Additional endearing performances came from duo Lady Larkin and Sir Harry, played by Keri Jens and Brandon Adams.  Keri delivered a deeply emotive performance which had the whole audience empathising with her every struggle.

 

Dialogue was clear and well projected from the cast, but this could not be said for the songs.  So much of the story in musical theatre is communicated through song, vocalizing consonants with precision being an important aspect of the genre and what distinguishes it from opera. Excluding Adams and Lowe, the words and diction got lost during songs.  It’s too easy after many rehearsals to neglect the fact that the audience is not intimately familiar with the material. Every word should be heard.

 

Unfortunately the orchestration did not help the singers here.  The composition and arrangement of the musicians needed to be balanced and arranged for the audience’s position in the space, rather than the violins being hidden in the noise. The dynamic mix was not appropriately considered, the band drowned out the less experienced singers and didn’t follow the same expressive journey of the vocalists. The big band feel of Rodger’s score was often missing in this construction and felt disturbingly unpolished, especially with a frequently off-key horn.

 

I hold this company to a high standard, but they are a community theatre and do attract a few talented gems which make this uplifting old musical well worth going to watch, even if you have seen it before.  

 

- Irving Bolton