What a joy to see a very simple and equally silly story adapted for the stage and turned into an hour of light-hearted frivolity, full of humour and ingenuity. The Emperor's New Clothes at the Bread and Roses Theatre remains true to the original tale, but places it in a new context that makes complete sense and to whihc it is entirely suited.
Light-hearted frivolity, full of humour and ingenuity
Hans Christian Andersen’s original story was published in1837 as the final instalment of his Fairy Tales Told for Children. Appealing to young and old alike it’s stood the test of time, has been translated into over 100 languages and also formed the basis of films and television shows. If the main thrust of the story is the blind stupidity and humiliation of the Emperor, what really appeals at the moment is how those in power can hoodwink people into believing something that is manifestly false and how they then go on to convince others and propagate the lie. Add you own set of political scenarios to that framework.
Where better to place a story about new clothes than in the world of haute couture, where there's nothing like being known as the The Emperor to assert your position in a highly competitive industry. But even emperors can stumble across hard times and with a failed season behind him, this Emperor’s fashion house is desperate for a new idea that will re-establish the brand at the forefront of design. Gathering his court of eccentric advisers around him, a series of crackpot ideas are broached that go no further than to show his advisors to be living in worlds of their own and ill-equipped to do their jobs.
Then the breakthrough comes. “Have you heard of ‘NuCloth’? The team behind it are new in town so it's totally exclusive. It’s a whole new type of material. And the really special thing about it is that you can only see it if you’re hot, and you can’t if you’re not...” The Emperor, played wonderfully as an over-the-top odd-ball with an excess of ego by Jacob Baird, falls for the idea immediately. Now the art of deception goes into overdrive, led by Hannah McLeod and Sasha Brooks who impersonate French suppliers of the faux fabric named Bree and Oche. (Say their names together out loud! Oche is pronounced Osh). Dressed in matching Columbo-style raincoats and vivid red berets they are a challenge to French and Saunders. With visits to the production line by various courtiers, where the splendours of the fabric are extolled, it’s not long before the Emperor himself goes to see the new suit they are making for him and is left in awe. He proclaims that he will be the sole model on the catwalk at the next fashion show with just this one garment on display. Thus, to astonishing and revealing effect, he struts the catwalk until the hoax is laid bare.
The Emperor's New Clothes is written and performed by Baby Lamb Productions, a group of six recent graduates from The Oxford School of Drama. Director/actors Hannah McLeod and Janik Rajapakse clearly know how to craft a show and ensure that the cast bounce off each other. They’ve channeled the ensemble’s abundant confidence and talents to create a highly-charged razzmatazz production with well-defined characters, capable of clearly-contrasted doubling up. Kip O’Sullivan strikes some stunning poses as a fashionista, his face brimming with expression and a walk to match. He also opens and closes the play as the wild compère of the fashion show. Hannah McLeod responds to every imperial command in her second role as an animated Alexa, while Nisha Emrich doubles as a courier, but makes her impact as the exasperated Maureen; the voice of sanity and the only person with any sense of reality. Hence, she is ignored and ridiculed by others.
Even if this weren’t the first theatrical endeavour of a new drama group The Emperor's New Clothes would still rank as a solid piece of comedy drama. That the company has the imagination, wit and skill to create it at such an early stage in their development augers well for their future and is a credit to all involved.