Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


In full flight - one of the vital dance numbers in the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Pictures: Steve Vent

The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Priory Youth Theatre, Kenilworth


A chance encounter plus a lucky free night took me to Kenilworth, to the Priory Youth Theatre’s latest offering, Nicky Jessop’s (and Nicky Main’s) scintillating production of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

It’s based closely – and very successfully - on the famous fairy tale by German storytellers Jakob and Wilhelm (‘the brothers’) Grimm, but carving its own path to create a vivid show for youngsters It was charmingly enacted by whole the cast, very well directed, convincingly and imaginatively blocked, gorgeously costumed, prettily sung and in all respects, enchanting: such impressive credits for the whole Youth Theatre.

And so much more. Each ‘Princess’ was kitted in a different colour of the rainbow, plus extra hues. They looked beautiful every time they appeared, their entries en masse on many occasions largely well managed. It’s not easy – in fact it’s very hard - to arrange 12 (or more) characters on a compact stage, differently each time (one scene in dotty dark glasses was a hoot).

Happily it was not a Musical: the songs – beginning with “Somewhere over the Rainbow” were by way of a lovely decoration, sung usually by a group or by all, for the next one: “We are Family” (possibly launched by an American girl quartet); or by different solo girls, all – older and younger - with attractive and enticing voices. And every one articulate, and admirably in tune, give or take a fraction of uncertainty on some top notes.


Homeless Michael (Antonio Pinheiro), who learns the secret of the Princesses' nocturnal dances, and finds his true love, Princess Sarah (Francesca Reid)

What’s more, in these main stage-filling scenes and musical numbers throughout, the cast members had different gestures, ever-varying, counterpoised, skilfully offset. The songs were abetted by offstage keyboard and light percussion, (surely not recorded) attractively laid-back, always restrained, never booming or cloying, which added flavour: enhanced the story rather than distracted. Not naïve, but contributing different moods: excitement, hope, uncertainty, sometimes chasing away worry. Plus a touch of Julie Andrews.

Into their lives wanders a lonely boy – “I haven’t got a home; my parents are dead.” Antonio Pinheiro, one of two boys in the group (a third will join shortly; then hopefully a good many others. Word gets round. There may be a flood). His wan demeanour and urge to get involved, to be useful, and to gain access so as to win his girl, was finely caught. We cared about him. We all did, even if the soldier, or unlucky wanderer, would benefit from a firmer character. A note: he does slightly swallow his words. He can soon correct that.

But his first song, “Hold my girl” (“I’m waiting for my girl…”  Chorus reprise: “Give me a minute to hold my girl”) was enchanting, and indeed helpfully opened up his character to gain greater assertion. So that by the time of his intimate scene shared on a bench with his longed-for favourite, pink-clad, brave little Princess Sarah (Francesca Reid), the pair’s emerging relationship proved both touching and moving.

But if some bits of text were invisible, so was he. He acquires a magic cloak (as does the old soldier in the original Grimm’s fairy tale) - one looking rather plush, like black velvet or velveteen, which enables him to creep around unseen. “I close my eyes – and I can see!”, he exclaims excitedly. A strange and fascinating new experience, as he works out when to wear it, when maybe not. Nicky Jessop, having got the girls right, could have improved his exits and entrances, giving him things to do en route. Coaching those related things is one of the first and most important things Drama Schools – or ensembles – must teach. Do something as you exit.

A few of the girls, just two or three, perhaps three or four, weren’t really loud enough too. Most were jolly good. So audibility was … intermittent. The next thing to learn is, of course, projection. All this fairy tale acted in front of a delightful, as it were, Rococo building enhanced by exquisitely-designed trees, or ferns (Mick Tyler designed, to excellent effect).


Unbelievably colourful - a quintet of beautiful Princesses

Those songs – still desirable – kept on comin’. Next up: “Don’t stop believin’”, signature (most popular) song of the early Eighties US group Journey. A taller blue girl delivered that - thanks to her, one of the best musical numbers.  If blocking was excellent, choreography will surely develop in the ensemble gradually. Here it was adequate, and at best riveting.

Talking of dancing, indeed sometimes clapping (all dead in time), one almost comic –indeed perfect - detail was that they all had – dare one say?) enchanting and cute dancing shoes matching – exactly - their gorgeous dresses – mid blue, lime green, orange, mauve, cream, rose pink, red, lemon, even black, etc. No Costume Designer was credited, I guess for a good reason: not so much a stressed-out behind the scenes team, but the girls’ mums drummed into service to produce, well, magic. How thrilling were the results. And they had as many different characters as shoes.

Strong in the first half, entering the second half, two of the strongest, most professional characters – as well as the bossy, I assume eldest, daughter who takes it for granted she will be Queen (she’d better watch out: primogeniture – the oldest succeeding - was not the norm in early medieval Europe!), who spoke terrifically and of whom more to follow – were the two Narrators, Olivia Mountjoy and Emily Dashwood. Sensibly placed both sides front of Proscenium: one an outstanding speaker, aiming her script direct to the audience, the other – well, pretty good too. And the actual Queen – Fairy Queen? (Macy Parker) - a sort of benevolent presence, standing out from the rest, and the only oner in pure white (an excellent decision), although appearing briefly, was right up with best.

We quickly met one of the most enchanting elements in the whole evening. The action moves into a wood (presumably, following the myth where the Princesses dance in a clearing amid the trees), and four little girls – three very little, one a mite taller) acted as trees. They swayed, shivered, dangled, their silvery outfits (matching those stipulated in the original fairy tale: sparkling mainly silver, but tinged with gold and diamonds). The four were absolutely knockout. What a treat they were just to look at. Yet another touch of genius in this ever so inspired production.

Not always everybody. One distinctly occasion showed just five girls frontstage, forming a kind of quintet. Sometimes there very skilled interactions, exchanges or conversations between just two, or pairs or smaller huddles, of Princesses. All mightily well staged.    

I think in this case each one of the dozen dancing wonders, secretly escaping into the woods, should be acknowledged. The characters’ names (I suspect not traditional, but allocated for this staging) were, in alphabetical order): Ashley, Chelsea, Holly, Jessi, Jill, Lily, Lindsay, Lucy, Morgan, Nicole, Sarah, Shannon, They were played (and sung, and danced) memorably by Amelia Oliver, Helena Smith, Isla Oliver (as Holly), Amelie Maher, Rosa Kavanagh, Clemmi Joskey, Matilda Measures, Jessica Greenacre, Izzy Collett, Milly Jessop, Isabella Wheatley, Francesca Reid. Phew! What a lot in this celebrated Youth Company! Congratulations to them all.

And to the stage hands. Everything went smoothly, thanks to Jessica Arnold, Isla Hutchings, Lucy Johnson and Hermione Measures (like the Olivers, presumably Matilda’s sister).


The King (Fergus Moseley) contemplates an engagement between his daughter Sarah and Michael

Doubtless others more senior were behind the scenes; most obviously Ben Sidaway, who was spot-on managing the Music and sounds; and Arthur Marshal, who contrived a splendid Lighting plan, constantly varied, finely manipulated, always scrupulously attentive to whatever was going on onstage, with enjoyable, very intelligent changes of intensity for scenes in the woods. 

The senior girl, in scarlet, often stark, angry, irritated, tetchy (“You want a challenge, garden boy? We’ll give you a challenge”) was forever plotting, a bit like a wicked stepmother, and is, one might put it in an adult publication, a bitch. Brilliant. She was easily the most commanding of the twelve’s speakers (enjoining them not to let slip or confide to anyone “our little secret”); and a strong and impressive singer too. Was hers “This is the part of me” by Katy Perry? Perhaps not, though certainly appropriate, being the lead number of ‘her third album Teenage Dream’. Red girl’s (I lack the young actor’s - actress’s – name) was a phenomenal, forthright contribution. Not forgetting a particularly striking involvement by one girl in green, whose sympathy almost sets her at odds with the collective opinion – yet she takes the risk.

Is someone missing? Of course. Fergus Moseley as the King (the twelve girls’ daddy – he must have led an exciting life) was easily the outstanding member of the entire cast.

Yes – dare I say -he was the best actor by miles. Not, perhaps, because of his moves or stances: he has a bit to learn about those, although his faces and gestures were not unskilled. But as a speaker – wow! His handling of his words – was so mature and sophisticated, you might think he’d been trained at the RSC in Stratford; certainly if he lived there, he’d have been snapped up by that amazing, pioneering, top-class company Edward’s Boys, from Shakespeare’s grammar school, King Edward VI, Stratford. 

What was superlative about Moseley’s speaking was his pacing. Every phrase, clause and sentence was meticulously thought through. He knew exactly that he was doing. He is subtle. His intonation, constantly varied, was impeccable. Every pause was perfectly placed. “Do you have any…proof? Before you make your …decision?”

What an unending treat. Just one example from his treasure box of expressions. The result of Fergus Moseley’s subtly contrived pauses is that they separate ideas, lend his character (royal, or any) depth, demonstrate reflection, and also emphasise the second part of any sentence, Or a third part. His volume control was up to any adult actor. You could see him thinking it out. He shouldn’t get a big head about this - and it won’t turn out like this every time - but if he carries on in this manner, well, it will be good news.

So all in all, a magnificent, delightful staging of a literary gem by the resurrected Priory Youth Theatre. May there be many more.

Roderic Dunnett



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