Offie nominee Beth Burrows stars as Princess Winnifred in rarely seen, 1959 Broadway fairy-tale musical comedy Once Upon a Mattress. It’s her fourth collaboration with director Mark Giesser, following Strike Up the Band, The Lady With a Dog and Sirens of the Silver Screen. What makes their collaboration so successful? Time to get booking!
Once Upon a Mattress, adapted from Hans Christian Andersen‘s 19th-century short story The Princess and The Pea, has a limited four-week season at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate, north London, running from 5 to 29 March 2020, with press performances on 7 and 10 March.
Many moons ago, in a far-off place, begins a magical musical comedy journey. But this isn’t your usual fairy tale, and Princess Winnifred isn’t your usual fairy-tale princess. The kingdom in which she seeks her prince seethes with a very adult problem, which won’t end until Queen Aggravain allows her son to marry. Alas, he is his mother’s prince, and is any princess really good enough?
Talking to… Mark Giesser
Why do you like working with Beth?
Beth has that powerful combination of intelligence, talent, insight, creativity, conscientiousness, and delightful personality that makes her a star performer. In the three years that we’ve worked together, we’ve simply clicked very well as a director/actor team, and that’s produced lovely results.
What do you think distinguishes her as a performer?
She can play a range from Marilyn Monroe to a Chekhov heroine to a classic Gershwin ingenue and beyond, easily expressing edginess without losing any of her inherent charm. One of the reviewers of her work in my 2018 play The Lady With a Dog likened her to a young Deborah Kerr. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to work with the next Deborah Kerr?
If money & rights were no obstacle, what other roles do you think Beth would be perfect for?
One of the roles in which I’d love to direct her is the alchemist’s daughter who’s accused of witchcraft, Jennet Jourdemayne, in Christopher Fry’s classic romantic comedy The Lady’s Not For Burning. I’d similarly be delighted to work with her on one of my favourite dramas, The Crucible, in which she’d make an exceptional Elizabeth Proctor. And in classic musicals, I’m a particular fan of The Music Man, so when it’s next up for grabs, I think Beth would be a cracking Marian ’The Librarian’ Paroo.
Talking to… Beth Burrows
Why do you like working with Mark?
First and foremost, Mark has great biscuit game – I’m talking Marks and Spencer’s Viennese selection here. It’s something of a signature rehearsal staple! Joking aside, he’s a wonderful person to work with. Over the years, we’ve developed a sort of creative shorthand together, which means we generally share an instinct on the direction something is going – useful when you’re short on time and the pressure is on!
How would you describe him as a director?
In a word, nurturing. Both as a writer and actress, he’s a great sounding board to bounce ideas off of – I think that comes from him being a playwright too. He always encourages me to follow my instincts, but he’ll throw me a handy curveball to play with if I’m feeling blocked.
What’s been your personal highlight of the shows you’ve done together?
My standout memory is the press night for my solo show, Sirens of the Silver Screen, the first time I performed it in London in 2017. Mark and I had a very bizarre but fortuitous meeting when he was travelling on a cruise ship with his lovely wife Jody. I was performing my show one evening and he saw it. I never dreamed it would be possible, but nine months later I was premiering it to a warm, appreciative press audience. He helped mould and shape it for a London crowd; I couldn’t have done it without his guidance.
What are you most looking forward to about Once Upon a Mattress?
Princess Winnifred is such a kooky, offbeat character. Of course, Carol Burnett and Sarah Jessica Parker have famously portrayed her, but I’m looking forward to working with Mark to find my Winnifred for 2020. Also, just to be performing with a lovely ensemble – it’s always exciting to work with a new company.
Once Upon a Mattress runs from 5 to 29 March 2020 at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate Village, London N6 4BD, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm and Sundays at 4pm, Saturday matinee 28 March at 3pm. Tickets are priced £10-£20. Phone 020 8340 3488 or CLICK HERE TO BOOK ONLINE!