Based on The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, adpated by Jimmy Grimes
Directed by: Jimmy Grimes
Venue: Orange Tree Theatre
Date: Thursday 7th July 2011
This was a devised piece, incorporating the story of The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde and experiences of the homeless around Richmond. The stage floor was covered with gray paving, and two lines of inset light panels marked a wide lane. This flooring was mainly for the second piece, but didn’t feel out of place for this one. There were two slanted gray panels beside opposite entrances, to our right and far left, and these had strip lights attached. The far right entrance had a blue fire door with graffiti, and the initial setup included a hospital bed and two chairs, one with a woman’s cardigan draped over the back and a handbag on the seat, the other with a rucksack lying beside it. The scenes were short, and involved a lot of quick changes, with furniture being brought on and off, and sometimes rearranged, to give the different locations. They even provided a dead bird and a rolled-up woodlouse – how’s that for realistic!
The story was fairly simple. We were introduced to one homeless man, Mickey Flynn, by a policeman narrator, who popped up now and again to add a bit more information. Mickey had been on drugs, in jail, and was now living rough in Richmond. One day he gets a call from his son Ben to let him know that his mother, Mickey’s wife, was going in for an operation, and from then on Mickey’s determined to get up to Middlesbrough to see them. His mate, Stu, has some money, but won’t ‘lend’ it to him, so finally Mickey attacks Stu and takes his money to pay for his rail fare. There’s a scene in the wife’s hospital room – hence the bed, but no wife – and the play finishes with Mickey being arrested after causing a disturbance on Richmond green, upset because he’s lost his son for good.
The story, The Happy Prince, is woven into the play by having Stu tell it to Mickey bit by bit. He even does hand movements for the swallow. Later, they use a couple of puppets for the part where the swallow takes the statue’s other eye and then refuses to leave him; lots of moisture in my eye department for that bit. I wasn’t clear about the parallels between the two stories, even after the writer/director explained them in the post-show, but it was enough for me that Stu liked the story, and was telling it to his friend.
I was moved by the stories, and it seemed to me that one of the problems facing the homeless is not just the lack of resources to help them, but the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through to get that help – forms, assessments, etc. I was slightly surprised at how much these two were eating, but I assume that was based on the information the homeless folk had given the director.
All the performances were great, and Ed Bennett deserves a special mention for his multi-tasking abilities – he played every authority figure from the policeman through some kind of social worker to the MacDonald’s staff member, and did a really good job with all of them.
© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me