Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A Princess' Perspective...

I don't usually write these blogs from my own perspective, but this year I thought it would be nice to take a look at a character type that may not bring the biggest laughs or cheers, but is a crucial and beloved part of pantomime nonetheless: the Princess.

I first stepped onto Medina Theatre stage for the first time in Prince Crispian and the Magic Sword, dressed as a snowflake, in February 1995. Far from being frightened, I was so desperate to get on stage that I pushed the terrified snowflake ahead of me on, just so I could  get out in front of an audience that little bit faster.

Not much has changed.

In the twenty-one years I've been with The Wight Strollers, I've been lucky enough to have some wonderful experiences as a dancer, a chorus member and as a principal.

With every year, I've loved it a little more, and anyone who knows me will know how much I love the company, and the people in it.

I always struggle to put into words just how I feel about them - 'family' is about as close as I can get. No matter how long the day, there's always a smile to be found in the company of these wonderful people.

This year, I am thrilled to be able to step into the role of principal girl, and I have to confess...there is nothing quite like the feeling of shaking off reality and becoming a princess for a few hours a week!

Alright, so it's true that princesses aren't always the brightest characters on the bill...

They ignore all the best audience advice, engaging in many a fairytale faux-pas, from swapping magic lamps to eating poison apples: memorably, when playing Snow White, I had a little girl shout 'Don't eat the apple, Snow White - you'll die!' from the audience, but the script, sadly, forbade me to listen.

They usually don't think beyond first impressions: Princess Mandarin in this year's Aladdin, for example, conveniently runs into a peddler man exchanging 'new lamps for old', mere moments after Aladdin has handed her a battered, old lamp and told her to guard it with her life...

And they often find themselves in mortal danger: so far, in my panto princess experience, I've eaten two poisoned apples, pricked my finger once, almost been eaten by a wolf and been captured twice. Not a great track record.

But those are minor details. I, for one, adore every second I spend in a princess dress!

Over the years, though, I've come to realise that there is so much more to playing a princess than just a pretty dress (although that is a major perk!) - so, for a bit of fun, I've come up with five top tips for any Panto Princess in the making...

1. Know what makes your princess tick...
Princess Mandarin is in equal parts sweet and feisty, and she will settle for nothing less than what her heart wants...and that's something to be admired, I think. It makes her easy to love, and even easier to play.

2. Embrace the Princess Persona
Most of the audience will associate the word 'princess' with the Disney Princess franchise...and with those expectations come faraway looks, wishful sighs and plenty of flowery hand gestures!

Just try not to smack the other cast members with your hair, hands or billowy sleeves while you're twirling and prancing around from dawn 'til dusk!

3. Get the Look!
When you play a princess, you just know that dozens of little girls in the audience, who have all come dressed up, are waiting to see what you look like...

Your make-up has to be perfect, your dress has to be pristine and you have to be prepared for your feet to suffer in many an itchy, glittery shoe. Sometimes it hurts, but it's so worth it!

4. Find the right prince!
The perfect panto prince depends on the panto - he can be anything from charming gentleman to cheeky chappy, as long as he's believable from the first moment you meet to the final curtain call.

I've been so incredibly lucky to have played opposite some super talented actors and some of my very best friends over the years, and often they wind up being one in the same. This year is no exception, though don't tell him I said it!

5. Wishes, Dreams and Happy Endings
For me, the most important part of being a princess is what you represent. In a world where children are encouraged too soon, at least in my opinion, to abandon the fairytale role models of their childhood, it's a thrill to be able to inject a little magic into their imaginations as a real, live person.

After all, in PantoLand, the princesses aren't animated, airbrushed or photo-shopped; they are real girls, with real lives and real bodies. Real people who have probably once sat in an auditorium wishing they could wear a Snow White dress, or sing like Sleeping Beauty or dance like Cinderella.

For all those children that sit and watch you get your happy ending, whatever the trials that come before, you are a reminder that happy endings exist and dreams can come true. And that you can grow up, at least in some way, to be a princess.

And sometimes, for a little girl doubting herself, that little glimmer of hope can go a long way...

See Princess Mandarin in action at Medina Theatre this half term by booking tickets for The Wight Strollers' fun-filled family pantomime, 'Aladdin'. Visit the Medina Theatre website or phone 01983 823884 to book your tickets today!

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