Coronet Theatre, London – until 25 May 2019
By an anonymous guest critic
Alix Sobler’s new play is a full-length fairy tale based on the true case of Princess Alexandra of Bavaria, born in 1826, who convinced herself that as a child she had swallowed a full-size, glass, grand piano.
A play about this actual case study could have made for an interesting drama about how society at that time would have dealt with this type of mental health condition. Instead, Sobler attempts something more ambitious than that, by turning the condition into the reality of fantasy so Princess Alexandra really does have a glass piano inside her.
The play opens on Alexandra’s father, Ludwig, who is constantly busy in his study attempting to write poetry. As his wife the Queen seems to have gone missing, the only person he can engage with apart from his daughter is the housemaid Galstina. Meanwhile, his daughter Alexandra is completely isolated by her condition and doesn’t socialise with anyone accept her father at meal times.
Their Kingdom is visited by one Louis Lucien Bonaparte (a relative, we soon find out), a philologist who has been invited by Ludwig to help him with his poetry. In exchange, Lucien wants to conduct language research with the nearby community, who are apparently feral.
This arrangement leads to Lucien and Alexandra forming a relationship and falling in love, leading to her need to chose to either move on with her life (and a new one with Lucien) or stay where she is and remain a virtual prisoner of her condition forever.
Max Key’s production is stylised and striking to watch. As we enter the theatre we see a sparse set on a black, lacquered stage. To the side of the stage, there is grand piano, played by concert pianist Elizabeth Rossiter. Her playing of Gabriel Profokiev’s atmospheric score is one of the production’s biggest strengths.
The actors all give moving and engaging performances. The play itself is slightly let down by its own ambition. At over two hours, it doesn’t feel that the story has enough to sustain itself. In its current form, this play might only appeal to fans of adult fairy tales (it has a strong affinity to the work of Angela Carter) but perhaps not to a wider audience.