A few months ago I was in Exhibition Park in Newcastle with my children (a one-year-old and a three-year-old) when I overheard a woman talking about how her husband was going to be appearing in a theatre adaptation of children’s book The Worst Princess. She told her friend (as I listened in) that it had been commissioned by regional arts organisation New Writing North and would be touring. I thought: my kids would like that. So we went.
I didn’t know much about it before arriving. I knew it was a book, but it’s not one we have in the house (yet), so I read the production notes, which explained the book was created by Anna Kemp and Sarah Ogilvie, and this under-7s production was adapted by Carina Rodney. It’s been touring the region’s community centres, libraries and schools, and on Saturday it arrived at Seven Stories, the national children’s books centre in Ouseburn.
It was up on the seventh floor, in the reading area, and the place was packed – sold out apparently. Me, my wife, my three-year-old and one-year-old all sat down on cushions near the front, surrounded by other occupied cushions, a few rows of wooden benches towards the back also full. All eyes were on the two medieval towers in front of us.
Music started, three knights came out, and a princess. The premise is that the princess (in fairness she is pretty terrible) is waiting for a prince to move his royal bum (her words) and come and take her away. A prince does show up. He’s got a long plumage (his words) but not much else going for him – he’s particularly reluctant to fight the requisite dragon.
The dragon’s not the best either – quite posh, likes jazz, but has an unfortunate wind problem. And there’s a frog. Of course there’s a frog. With a ukelele. And a Brummie accent. Actually, it might have been more Wolverhampton. The story weaves all that together, wonderfully, with snogging and pants, loads of pants, and Brian the poet.
So the material’s all there, but a successful children’s theatre production needs to engage the kids. Both of ours had been ill all week, so they weren’t in a great frame of mind, and before it started me and my wife had formed a plan of how to bail out when the kids got bored and became aggravating. But something amazing happened: they sat still.
They sat still, and they laughed. The three-year-old thought it was hilarious, his little belly laughing great big belly laughs. He particularly loved the naughty princess, obviously, with her refusal to behave and all her talk of burps. Director Ruth Johnson nailed it: good jokes, dancing, audience participation and fantastic songs.
It’s also worth name-checking the actors – Jeremy Bradfield, Rachel Gay, Joe Johnston and Claire Tustin – for being fun and funny, and also utterly absorbing. So if you want to go and see it for yourself, they’re touring all this week, but the final performance is on 31st October. Go to the website www.worstprincess.com to find a date near you.