A new twist is added to an old fairytale in a collaboration between visual theatre director Rene Baker and Norwich Puppet Theatre.
Originally a story from the brothers Grimm about responsibility and the importance of keeping your promises, The Frog Prince underwent a Disney makeover a few years ago. Emerging as a comedy-animation film about not judging by appearances, The Princess and the Frog notably features the – so far - only African-American Disney Princess.
This Frog and the Princess went a step further, introducing a young audience (of 4-8 year olds) to the broader themes of difference, prejudice and discrimination. The basic plot remained the same: the Princess kicks her ball into a well and promises the Frog he can play with her at the palace if he retrieves it for her – having no intention of keeping her word. However, the ‘happily ever after’ was not Frog turning into a handsome prince, but learning to understand and accept each other just as they are, tolerating - and even enjoying - their differences, and so becoming friends.
The performance was compact and self-contained – both in the set-up and delivery. Simple props and theatrical devices were sparingly but effectively used to create the different scenes and spaces; sound effects of dripping water and rain, together with an innovative musical score, transformed this cosy piece into an atmospheric mini-wonderland.
Frog was a wooden, hinged puppet, capable of fluid, languid movements – really coming into his own when ‘swimming’ underwater. Princess was just like a large, old-fashioned doll, making up for her lack of freedom of movement through her nostalgic and strangely charismatic presence. The two performers took turns at working and interacting with both puppets and, at times, managed to pull off the clever - but elusive - trick of presenting them as independent characters.
The thematic ideas were strong but were a little lost in translation: sitting somewhere beneath the characters, the plot and its clever execution, they bubbled under the surface yet didn’t quite break through – certainly not loudly and clearly enough for such a young audience.
However, it was a gentle and engaging piece that would serve very well as a starting point for raising issues of cultural difference and tolerance with primary-age children and pre-schoolers.