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Theatre review: The Emperor's New Clothes

The Unity's Christmas offering is tailored purely for the youngest, says Vinny Lawrenson Woods. So is it worth going?

Published on December 9th 2008.


Theatre review: The Emperor's New Clothes

THERE is a popular Yuletide custom, at the Unity Theatre, of telling traditional stories in untraditional ways, and this year we have an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s parable, The Emperor’s New Clothes. With endless reports and stats detailing the success of Liverpool’s Culture year out very soon, some critics couldn’t miss the opportunity for irony in the final month of 2008.

The small cast were faultless in their portrayal of the many characters in the show and all fantastic - in spite of the quality of the script

Created by Patrick Dineen, Mike Kenny and the cast, the retelling of the famous folktale was produced by Unity Theatre Liverpool, Hope Street Limited and Random Acts of Wildness. Dineen, the man who arranged and composed the score for Liverpool's disappointing 08 launch on St George's Plateau with Ringo, also directed and provided the music for the show.

Instantly switching the performance space from a palace, to a wardrobe, and then to a forest, the cleverly designed, hand-painted set provided the backdrop to the story of the vain and dim-witted Emperor Bling, played with enthusiasm by the likeable J.J. Henry dressed in Burberry PJs.

The small cast were faultless in their portrayal of the many characters in the show and all fantastic - in spite of the quality of the script. No more so than Aiden Lee Brooks and Graham Geoffrey Hicks who play the villainous brothers Oscar and Philip Wicked, tailors to the vain Emperor. Their double act was a

huge hit with the audience and their comic timing spot on. It’s a shame the writing was more Ant & Dec than Morecambe and Wise and didn’t take full advantage of their obvious chemistry.

New additions to the original text offered sub-plots including the story of the urchin, played by the enchanting Sarah Hassan, and that of Mrs Eclaire, played by Emma Hirons, in a part reminiscent of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, right down to the Bow bells accent. Mrs Eclaire is the Emperor’s love interest and adds an extra, welcome dimension to the adaptation - unlike the urchin and the blackbird.

The Christmas show was obviously written for a very young audience and felt a touch patronising at times. Only in one scene, when Mrs Eclaire’s buns were referred to, in a bit Carry On...-esque innuendo, were the “adults” ever included. The specially composed songs were entertaining and delivered extremely well but the other musical fillers appeared to be written to appeal to the Teletubbies age group.

But with the boundless energy of Rod, Jane and Freddy, the cast interacted well with the younger members of the audience, and the shouts back from the crowd added some entertaining ad libbing to the evening. Although one cast member shouted “This is not a pantomime”, the distinction here was blurred, oh yes it was.

Unlike last year’s superior production of Pinocchio, there is little here of interest to grown ups or maybe even older children. Nevertheless, it remains is a fun show with a lot to offer to the youngest kids.

7/10

*The Emperor's New Clothes, Unity Theatre, Hope Place, Liverpool L1, runs until Jan 17. Family tickets £23.00 [2 adults and 2 children]. Adults: £8.50/£6.50 concessions; Children: £4.00; Box office: 0151 709 4988

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