Has the damsel in distress had her day?
By Narelle Wood
It’s a tale as old as time: pretty damsel finds herself in distress and is rescued by a handsome prince. Well woodland creatures, princes and enchanted rodents beware; these damsels are disenchanted with their lot and they’re not afraid to sing about it.
Disenchanted, directed by (Madison Thew-Keyworth) is a cabaret-style show lead by Snow White (Ellie Nunan), Cinderella (Courtney Underhill) and the occasionally conscious Sleeping Beauty (Tayla Johnston). To highlight the many issues with what the princesses term “the princess complex” the trio of merry maidens are joined on stage by some other famous females including Mulan, Pocahontas and Princess Badroulbadour – or as we now know her, Princess Jasmine – (all played by Jennifer Trijo), Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel (all played by Demi Phillips) and Tiana (Asabi Goodman), the first African American Disney princess, who also happened to kiss a frog.
Together the princesses take a slightly more realistic, some may say a little cynical but much needed, look at their fairy-tale storylines, and in doing so raise a few questions around the types of messages these stories are sending and whether the idea of a damsel in distress has had its day.
There are songs about cultural appropriation, the Disney-fixation on making grim tales more palpable to children, and the capitalist venture that is princess entertainment. Cinderella’s anthem for an image-obsessed generation, All I Wanna Do is Eat, is just one of many songs that touch on body image issues, which are suggested to stem from the unrealistic proportions often used to portray the feminine physique. My favourite song though is Snow White’s truthful version of what she would like to be singing while she worked, and despite being an upbeat and perky number called A Happy Tune, Snow White drives home some pretty hard-hitting messages about household equality.
The show’s a hoot. The band – under the musical direction of Bradley McCaw – look like they’re having a blast. The cast has charm, wit and beauty, which is everything you could want in a prince, and is all wrapped up in a feisty fairy-tale princess package. Snow White is cool, calm and in control and Cinderella’s comic timing is perfect. Sleeping Beauty is, when she’s not asleep, a little over sexed – which is a good opportunity to point out that this show is not recommended for anyone under the age of 15. Best leave the little princesses at home.
Disenchanted was an Off-Broadway hit and it’s not hard to see why. It’s not the fairy-tale we know, but it is very much the modern take on these fairy-tale classics that we need to hear.
Photograph: Rick Monk