ONCE UPON A MATTRESS

10 Mar

MUSIC BY Mary Rodgers, Lyrics by Marshall Rarer, Book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer.

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

This is a sort of pantomime developed from the Hans Anderson Story The Princess and the. This is definitely a play for laughter and music. Impossible to find a political message within, which is quite a delight. It is pure entertainment. Whether it is any good is the way it is presented and performed. I have seen it done without a laugh and yet I believe, although it did not have a long run, it was amusing at the Aldwych in 1960. I actually saw it then but the funniest scene in it at that time as not able to be presented on the small stage of the Gatehouse. It was a pile of thick mattresses – twenty I think, and she had to use a ladder to climb on top of them. To say more would give away secrets.
The songs are delightful, bt Mary Rodgers, daughter of the Richard Rodgers of history. The Prince is dying to get married, but his selfish mother doesn’t want to give him up to any other hussy.
The show is directed and produced by Mark Giesser, who seems to specialise in vintage musicals and who directed and produced “Strike Up the Band” at this theatre last year.


The plot involves a dysfunctional Royal Family in a mythical kingdom in 1428. The Prince dauntless is dying to get married, but his selfish mother doesn’t want to give him to any other hussy. She loves her son and her libidinous husband Sextimus is under a curse that causes him to be mute, and all he does is chase the maidens in the palace.
Sir Harry, one of the Queen’s Knights, is having a baby with Lady Larken, but the rule is that no one can marry until Dauntless has found his Princess.

Sadly it is Queen Aggravain who rules the Roost in the Palace and she devises impossible tests the young Princesses have to pass befor e they can be considered a suitable match for her beloved son.

When it first hit the Broadway Stage in 1958 it won a couple of Tonys, one for the play and one for Carol Burnett who played Winnifred. It has since been played often in New York – it is a wonderfuol vehicle for a funny lady.

In the Gatehouse production it is Beth Burrows who wears the comedy hat as Princess Winnifred – also known as Fred. and Theo Toksvig-Stewart is also funny who plays Prince Dauntless. Their relationship is passionate and amusing. But the juveniles who do most of the serious singing, including the very beautiful “In a Little While” is sung by Sir Harry who has an unusually good vocal talent and Rachchel Louise MIller as his lady Larken who has a high soprano – unusual these days.

Julia Falkner plays The Wicked Queen Aggravain, and Sextimus, the libidinous but dumb King is mimed excellently by Steven Watts. The Minstrel who tells the story is Matthew James Willi, the Jester (who has the sweetest number “Very Soft Shoes” is Rachel Lea-Gray and John Sears performs some amazing magic tricks as The Wizard. (Every Palace should have one. ) Courtney Hammond is one of the failed Princesses and the Nightingale of ~Samarkand!!.

There is some jolly choreography by Chris Whittaker and Jessica Douglas is Musical Director and Orchestrator.

It is important to see this with an open mind and go with the intention of having a good time. 

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