Tobacco Factory Theatres review: Princess Charming

Ginny Gould reviews Princess Charming, playing at Tobacco Factory Theatres until Sunday 4 November.

I’ve just come back from seeing Princess Charming at Tobacco Factory Theatres with my six-year-old daughter. It was a lovely experience from start to finish. This was the first time I’ve been in the Spielman Theatre and it’s perfect for kids, with comfy sofa-style seats covered in soft and glittery cushions. It’s very, very welcoming.

I think we were not an easy audience, there weren’t half as many people there as this show deserved. Luckily there were a few extroverts who were quite capable of joining in with the joining-in bits, but I think my daughter would have been much more inclined to if she had heard lots of other children doing so. She enjoyed it anyway, and so did I.

Princess Charming is a production by Spun Glass Theatre, and there are just two performers on stage – a boy, Alex Luttley and a girl, Charlotte Worthing. There is a lot of pink and blue. The show is in a cabaret format with lots of little pieces coming together to make a story. Soon after the introductions the performers appear as Peter and Jane and it is made clear by an unseen voice from above that they have roles to play. The voice says that Jane likes dolls and is a chatterbox who is neat and tidy and wants to be a mummy; meanwhile Jane has thrown the baby doll into a box and Is intently focussed on a computer game. Peter is apparently messy and loud and likes guns and winning: the Peter we are watching is cuddling a soft toy after neatly arranging his toys. I immediately felt smug – I mean, this is my youth, not my children’s. I was taught I could either be a nurse or a secretary, I knew that if I couldn’t make myself prettier I’d never get a husband. My daughter knows that it’s fine to like pink and glitter but it’s not compulsory and it doesn’t stop you liking maths and computers, my son knows to respect women for their abilities. I’m a modern parent. They know gay and transgender people! They are supplied with toys aimed at the opposite gender!But of course it’s not that simple, we’re still in a world where there are huge pressures on girls to conform and look good and the messages from all around – and that includes from me because of course I’ve internalised all this stuff and I do catch myself saying things that I hate myself for later.

More than anything this show is making me face up to the fact that what I haven’t focussed on is the pressure on boys to ‘be boys’. I’m pretty sure I’ve never said to my son to ‘man up’ or ‘be a man’; I’ve definitely said ‘be brave’ but only in exactly the same way I’ve said it to my daughter. But I have heard people say to him ‘don’t throw like a girl’ or ‘don’t be a girl’ or ‘that’s so gay’ and not called them out on it – not for whatever he was or wasn’t doing but for the messages that are there.

On the way home I asked my daughter what she thought about it all. She said she loved it all. I asked her what she thought of boys dressing up as princesses. She knew the right answer – ‘Well, it’s fine if they want to’. Pause. ‘But it is a bit weird’. OK…. ‘So why is it weird?’. Thoughtful silence. ‘I think it’s because boys just aren’t princesses in films and things’. During the show there is a poignant section where Alex tells us how Disney is starting to improve their female characters roles, but there is never anyone that is like him, a boy who wanted to be a princess (and a man who still does).

I’m not sure if Ella got all of the points from the show – she is a little under the recommended age of 7+. She is used to a mother who makes a fuss about how all the gaming comics are aimed at boys and many of the ‘girl’ ones are just wrong, and that it’s OK to be interested in whatever you want to be interested in, whether it’s cool, weird or whatever. I do think though that this may be making her think a bit more about the messages boys get too, and how in the end they’re all just children with individual likes and dislikes that may or may not conform to gender expectations. It’s certainly making me think a little more. All that and some excellent singing, dancing and some excruciatingly bad jokes. It’s a lovely little show.

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