The Hunting Lodge is a take on Cinderella by Belgian playwright Ignace Cornelissen. It is a version of the story intended for 11 year olds upwards, which leads you into some quite dark corners of one human’s mind.
The production takes place in the Clore Theatre, on the ground floor of the Unicorn Theatre. The audience is split into two halves, facing each other, with the action taking place in the long space between us. We first witness The Prince (Philip Arditti) getting ready for his own ball, fairly disinterested as the voiceover announces a neverending list of eligible women arriving at the door of the Hunting Lodge. He breaks the fourth wall, raises his glass of champagne to us with a ‘hello’ and practises his laugh and his dancing. He is obviously a bit out of practice, having been a recluse for five years, since the woman he was in love with (Grace) left him without saying goodbye. When he reveals his altar to Grace, we realise he is still in love with her.
It is evident that Daisy (Fiona Sheehan) is confident that she can become his new bride. When he leaves the room for a moment she caresses his possessions and throws herself onto the floor in a state of high excitement.
Enter Charlotte (Rhiann Francis), Daisy’s cleaner, who bears a resemblance to the Prince’s former girlfriend Grace. We soon find out that Daisy was supposed to have given Charlotte a lift to the party, a fact which was conveniently forgotten. There’s no love lost between the two women. Daisy menacingly warns Charlotte that she is not at any cost to dance with the Prince that night.
Directed by Purni Morell, The Hunting Lodge excels for me in three parts. The first is that the dance between the Prince and Charlotte (choreography by Melanie Ingram), when it inevitably happens, is the most carefree, fun, joyful dance that you could hope to see. The two actors do this brilliantly together. The second is the spin on the story about Cinderella leaving in such a hurry that she leaves one shoe behind. In this version, the one shoe turns into an abundance of shoes in all styles and colours which have presumably been left by several different women. What’s more, unlike in the more familiar Cinderella story, the Prince can recognise each woman who left a shoe behind (‘Definitely Deborah’s!). The third part is the fight which ensues between the two women, when it is revealed that Charlotte defied orders and danced with the Prince. It is magnificent, both in the way that it is staged by fight director Alison De Burgh in a difficult limited space – it wouldn’t really do to throw pointy stilettoes at members of the audience – and in the black comedy when the increasingly terrifying Daisy keeps returning with new and more ridiculous weapons.
This is a fifty-minute piece of entertainment which I really enjoyed, however my daughter was a bit non-plussed and said she didn’t find it that kid-friendly. Perhaps she can already feel at her young age that it’s really not worth fighting with a girlfriend over a man.
We attended The Hunting Lodge on press tickets. The Hunting Lodge is on at the Unicorn Theatre until 5th March 2017.