The Prince is throwing a ball and we’re all invited! He’s ruled the kingdom for a thousand days, and with a deadly prophecy hanging over him, he’s opened the doors to his palace in a bid to try and cheat death. Guests are invited to don their masks, step inside the Prince’s palace, explore the various rooms and meet with the fairy tale guests who lurk within the grounds…
Welcome to Red Palace, now open at the Vaults. Following the success of banquet show Divine Proportions, theatre company Shotgun Carousel returns with its latest immersive experience, this time in the form of a masquerade ball. Written by Cressida Peever and the concept of Laura Drake Chambers, Red Palace is inspired by the carnivals of Venice as well as Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Masque of Death’ and works by Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm Brothers. Familiar folk legend and fairy tale characters including Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White are brought to life and given a dark, contemporary twist during this evening of theatre, circus and cabaret.
All guests are treated to the theatrical experience but there’s also an option for pre-show dining, with a three-course meal designed and prepared by Masterchef semi-finalist Annie McKenzie. Dishes include homemade Irish soda bread (which you’ll be thinking about for days), spiced lamb’s breast that will melt in your mouth (all other dishes are vegan-friendly) and ‘poisoned’ toffee apples. On press night itself the dining experience was a little rushed, meaning that sadly the toffee apples had to be sacrificed. Some of the dining tables were also tightly packed, meaning that the experience wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been, although the quality of the food available thankfully made up for this. There’s also the chance for the ‘nobles’ to meet some and interact with a few of the characters before the show finally begins.
After an introduction from the Prince (played on press night by Eleanor Dillon-Reams), who brags of his past crimes and tells of the prophecy against him, guests are given the freedom to explore the various rooms. Director Celine Lowenthal ensures that there’s plenty going on within the space that you’re sure not to be bored. You can climb up into Baba Yaga’s attic where she tells you of the prophecy she made; visit Snow’s very (very) pink bedroom; or enter a bathroom where you’ll find a bubbly mermaid hungry for true love, not to mention human flesh. Or, if you’re feeling brave, take a trip into the woods and meet Red and the menacing Wolf . Unfortunately with around 15 minutes per room there isn’t enough time to see everything and savour the full experience. There’s also confusion when moving between rooms, which lets the experience down in places. It isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go; and the production could benefit from perhaps a few additional characters guiding guests on their path and ensuring they see everything. When guests are finally directed, they’re sent back to the ballroom for what’s billed to be a grand showdown, but it’s almost over before it’s even started and doesn’t quite live up to the hype, not quite coming together in the way you’d expect. Although there are times where the action falls flat, the evening is still filled with imaginative storytelling and lots of laughs, with 15 minutes not long enough in some of the more entertaining rooms.
The cast all embody their roles with enthusiasm and are great entertainers; singing, dancing and engaging with the crowd at all times (be warned, there is audience participation required, as this reviewer discovered!) Eleanor Dillon-Reams is wonderfully exuberant as the egotistical Prince, who’s pretty confident he can escape the curse bestowed upon him and shows no remorse for his past crimes. Alice Morgan-Richards certainly struts her stuff as Snow, her dance to Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ certainly one of the most memorable moments; and Emily Essery and Teddy Lamb are both intimidating as Red and the Wolf, with grudges to bear. Rosie Rowlands is energetic as Karen, who thanks to her enchanted red shoes is destined to dance forever; and Steffi Walker is just delightful as the mermaid; cheeky as she chats to her visitors, comical and she has a great voice to match.
The evening belongs to set and costume designer Maeve Black, who has truly outdone herself on this production. The Vaults tunnels have been used to their full potential and transformed into the impressive red palace; Baba Yaga’s attic would make the likes of Mystic Meg and Professor Trelawney jealous; while the mermaid’s bathroom makes you feel as though you’ve gone under the sea. Black’s imaginative design works well with Michelle Etherington’s lighting design to create an atmospheric production.
What’s particularly great about Red Palace is that characters who were victims in the tales are now given the opportunity to fight back and it champions strong women. ‘Red’ for example, is no longer a delicious meal but in fact working with the wolf and seeking revenge. Although it’s sure to be popular with groups of friends on a night out, with a few tweaks and better organisation, the experience could be brilliant. A unique experience, Red Palace is fun and creative production with bags of potential.
Red Palace runs at the Vaults until 12 January 2020.
Photo credit: Nic Kane Photography