Pros: At last a fairy tale to promote LGBTQ equality.
Cons: Don’t expect elaborate set and costumes, but focus on the acting.
Two minutes around the corner is the Ovalhouse, a multi-auditorium fringe theatre which specialises in experimental, radical and overlooked artists. Their FiRST BiTES series offers directors and playwrights the opportunity to develop new work whilst presenting it to an audience.
Waking Beauty is part of this initiative but, in the programme’s introductory note, both writer Leigh Douglas and director Fiona Kingwill agree that it might have finally found its definitive form. This achievement comes after a trial run at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival, in spring 2016.
A few minutes before the start, the doors of the upstairs studio are finally opened, to reveal three women and a young man already positioned on stage. The characters – dressed in timeless and neutral coloured costumes – don’t bat an eyelid whilst members of the public walk past them to reach the semi-circled stalls. The bare set is enveloped in an eerie music. Strips of sheer fabric hang from the ceiling and the light is projected through suspended transparent tubes.
The plot is one we all know: a gorgeous young girl with a doomed family situation captivates the fancy of a charming Prince, who fights sorcery to win her heart and gain her hand. After some twists and turns, the happy ending is obviously guaranteed and the true lovers are reunited, but not before the public is called on to determine what is ‘true love’ and how it can be recognised.
The company has designed a space which highlights the physical intensity of the performance. The writing is elaborate and reproduces faithfully the ancient language of the tales. The direction demonstrates great attention to detail, with Kingwill finely tuning the cast’s demeanour, to emulate the iconic illustrations of children’s books. The Mother’s (Francesca Anderson) loving effort to smooth her daughter’s appearance and manners, the Maiden (Gabrielle Sheppard) who carries herself with the affectation of a real princess-to-be and the Prince’s (James Wordsworth) prominence and perseverance all belong to the classic imagery. Crucial for the development of the story is the role of the Girl (Colette Eaton), who moves with ease across the stage, switching roles and being at once the narrator and the one who’ll influence the course of events.
Whilst Waking Beauty appears at first as a light-hearted play, heated with a display of physical strength and brightened by comic gags, we shouldn’t forget that it bears a socially engaged message. Playwright Leigh Douglas aims to create a classic tale of romance which overcomes the boundaries of heterosexual love and promotes the integration of sexual identities. In doing so, he addresses a series of LGBTQ-related issues, like the fear of being different or the resistance received from the family and other social structures. The use of a well-established genre to depict diversity is an ambitious and ground-breaking solution, which may help to embed homosexual relationships into the tradition of literature and performing arts.
Author: Leigh Douglas
Director: Fiona Kingwill
Producer: Daisy Hale
Box Office: 020 7582 7680
Booking link: http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/WakingBeauty
Booking Until: 16 July 2016