Oscar Wilde's short story – a spoilt Spanish princess breaks the heart of a simple child – is reworked by Trestle into a rich, mythic experience, full of the magic that only theatre can work.
It takes its inspiration, and much of its design, from the Velasquez painting of Las Meninas. Our storyteller, black clad like a stern tutor, is wandering through the auditorium as we enter, making sporadic small-talk with the gathering listeners. “The longer the name, the more status you have ...”, a sentiment with which Wilde would certainly concur.
The mirror and the fan dominate Jean Chan's evocative design, based around a fragment of a richly ornamented picture frame. The fans will become flowers, butterflies, the horns of a bull … The detail achieves deep significance: the pearl, the rose. This is collaborative play-making. We fashion flowers from tissue paper, trumpet the arrival of the Infanta, two children dance, one removes yards of the dead Queen's innards as part of a gruesome disquisition on the art of the embalmer. But mostly it is Georgina Roberts' energetically enchanting performance which makes this such a memorable hour. She assumes every character, from the delicate, charming Princess to the pathetic mis-shapen boy who is plucked from the forest to make her laugh on her twelfth birthday. She becomes courtiers, gypsies, a French funambulist – his moustaches made from more fans – the bullfighter and the bull.
Music, light and sleight-of-hand are used to keep the momentum moving, and as we approach the dark dénouement – the moral lesson of Wilde's tale – delight and wonder are replaced by regret and despair. A kaleidoscope of marvellous moments remain in the memory long after we emerge into the spring sunshine. The ape heralded by a sudden banana, the philosophical lizards, the distorting mirror, the sundial and the snake.
This heady blend of story-telling and physical theatre, directed by Emily Gray, is a passionate piece, and deserved a larger audience than Colchester could manage. Its message is just as important for today's children [and grown-ups] as it was when Wilde wrote it, or when Velasquez painting his Infanta.
this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews