Quirky, fun musical variation on a classic fairy tale

Once Upon A Mattress. Book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Mary Rodgers. Music by Mary Rodgers. Lyrics by Marshall Barer. Directed by Anita Davenport. Musical direction by Lauren Nihill. Choreographed by Jodi Hammond. Ickle Pickle Productions. Belconnen Theatre. Until January 24. Bookings: canberraticketing.com.au or 62752700.

Alex McPherson as Winnifred in <i>Once Upon a Mattress</i>. Photo: Jenny Watson. Photo: Jenny Watson

Alex McPherson as Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress. Photo: Jenny Watson. Photo: Jenny Watson

Fans of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales will remember the story of The Princess and the Pea, in which likely princesses for the prince’s hand are tested for their suitability by having to sleep on a pea placed beneath 20 mattresses. If a princess cannot sleep because of the pea, her sensitivity wins the prince.

It’s a novel change from the glass slipper test and Ickle Pickle’s production of Once Upon A Mattress remains true to the quirky innovations of the 1959 musical twist on Andersen’s story. It is so faithful, in fact, that 60 years on it appears too long, running as it does for over two hours including an interval. Faster pacing of entrances and exits, quicker cuing and some careful editing by director Anita Davenport would have enlivened the action.

The enduring success of the musical is due mainly to the creation of atypical, eccentric and unexpected characters, here performed with panache and a touch of the absurd by a strong cast of principals supported by an enthusiastic ensemble.

Elliot Cleaves as Minstrel, left,  and Jack Morton as Jester in <i>Once Upon a Mattress</i> Photo: Jenny Watson. Photo: Jenny Watson

Elliot Cleaves as Minstrel, left,  and Jack Morton as Jester in Once Upon a Mattress Photo: Jenny Watson. Photo: Jenny Watson

Prince Dauntless (Isaac Gordon) the gormless, simple and naïve son of a mute King Sextimus (Joe Moores) and an aggravating, domineering mother Queen Aggravain (Deanna Gibbs) finally discovers true love with the feisty, independent and most unusual Princess Winifred Woebegone (Alex McPherson). The story is fleshed out with a subplot that follows the trials and tribulations of true love between the somewhat pompous Sir Harry (Steve Galinec) and the expectant Lady Larken (Alissa Pearson).

Quirky though it is, it is still a fairy tale, and scratch the surface and you will still find the stereotypes. The women of the land may only marry if the prince wins his bride. Poor Lady Larken is the innocent victim of Sir Harry’s folly, and it is the devious and wilful Queen Aggravain with the help of her Gypsy (Sarah Hull) who plays the possessive thorn in true love’s side.

Ickle Pickle’s holiday production is wholesome community theatre, performed with commitment and fun. Without a live orchestra and only an accompanying music recording and with no amplification, Rodgers’ solos, duets and company numbers sounded tuneful and charming under Lauren Nihill’s musical direction. My eight-year-old granddaughter loved it and thought it was funny and as the Jester (Jack Morton) says to the Minstrel (Elliot Cleaves) “Everyone’s a critic.”

Ickle Pickle’s production of Once Upon A Mattress is enjoyable children’s theatre with enough action and song to keep the whole family happily entertained during the school holidays.