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'The Princess and the Pea': A mix of the old and the new

Lincolnshire’s Marriott Theatre’s adaptation of the classic tale The Princess and the Pea was a compilation of parts of the original Hans Christian Anderson tale with surprising modern day elements relatable for adults and kids alike. Having never visited this theater before, it was quaint and intimate, with seats surrounding the whole stage, which was quite fitting for a children’s play as kids were asked in the beginning to use all parts of their imagination to enjoy the show. As in the classic story, Queen Evermean is seeking a suitable wife for her son, Prince Wellington. To play off modern day love stories, the search for the perfect princess was strikingly similar to that of ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’. The thousands of girls lined up to prove their love to Prince Wellington. To do this, the young women had to pass a series of tests, much like Miss USA contestants would have to prove their worthiness: in appearance, intelligence, talent, and the Queen’s final ‘Princess Test’.

Not being a fan of the misogynistic undertones of the original story of a woman proving herself as a worthy partner to a man through a series of superficial tests, I tried to not let my previous feminist interpretation get in the way of this adaption (though it proved to be slightly challenging). As the auditions for the next princess were underway, it was surprising and refreshing to see that the Prince, a more intellectual thinker, was not interested in any of the princesses based on their looks and was more concerned in finding a woman that he truly loved, much to the Queen’s dismay. With modern elements of ipads and large screen TV projections incorporated as props and transitions, the show entertained and connected with a younger generation, while balancing the classic narrative of the original fairy tale.

Through transitions, stagehands did a fabulous job setting the scene in such a small space and allowing children to truly use their imagination to complete the scenery. They used fog machines and moss that cascaded from the ceiling to emit an eerie feeling of a damp, dark, and stormy forest. The scene of the castle embodied a Cinderella-esque moment where luxurious fabrics hung from make shift windows as light beamed onto the stage of actors in bright, colorful costumes.
With setting the scene in this original and authentic way, the dialogue between the actors was catered to reflect a story that was surrounded around finding one’s true love. Ruth, a young woman who does not aspire to try out to be a princess, stumbles into Prince Wellington in the forest as they both try to seek out new adventures as they are not content with the life that was laid out for them. In a strong difference from the original story, Ruth saves Prince Wellington during this first meeting in the storm and brings him back to the castle safely. Ruth and the Prince quickly realize their personalities are compatible as they are intellectually interested in similar things. The Prince confesses his love for Ruth to his mother, the Queen. The Queen insists she must enter in the contest and be subjected to the same tests as the other girls to prove her worthiness of being a princess. Ruth stands apart from the other young women competing for Prince Wellington’s affection, as she is self assertive, smart, strong, yet vulnerable.

In the end, the Queen gives Ruth the final test: to sleep on a pea covered by 20 mattresses, as only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding. After one very sleepless night, Ruth proves that she is in fact a true princess. Prince Wellington and Ruth get married with all of their family present and you guessed it, live happily ever after. As I enjoyed aspects of adapting the story to reflect more realistic notions of love, it was still hard to let go of some ideals that are embedded into the story. But after all, this play is meant for children, and by the laughter and applause that filled the theater on multiple occasions, I would say it was a hit. No one is more honest than a 7 year old and as my niece put it, “First of all, all the songs sounded kind of the same, but my favorite part was… the whole thing!”