When aiming to tap into the collective imagination of an audience, fairy tales are always a fantastic place to start. These stories are baked into our collective consciousness from childhood and the reimagining and reinterpretation of them often gives life to evocative work, as a result of this collective understanding.
The Vaults, ever home to the experimental, inventive and out there within the theatrical spectrum, is our venue for this evening as we prepare to enter Shotgun Carousel’s Red Palace: A Night of Feast and Fantasy.
I had the good fortune to be invited to sample the pre-show menu as part of my visit and I must stress what a strong start to the evening this was. The food, prepared by gastro-storyteller and Masterchef semi-finalist Annie McKenzie, establishes the diners role at the forthcoming ball. We are the nobles of the court and the dishes on offer, almost all maintaining the rustic elegance of historic feasts, are fit for purpose. Long tables and archaic-sounding instrumental covers of contemporary music further establish the sense of ‘ye olde’ nobility.
The show commences with a brief dance sequence to set the scene and the arrival of the prince, owner and lord of the titular Red Palace. He announces the reason for bringing us all here, explains the mysterious prophecy that threatens his security as ruler and tasks us all with enjoying the delights of the palace whilst keeping an eye out for anyone who might wish him harm.
With that, we’re off, let loose to explore the various areas of the palace and their inhabitants. The first thing to strike me is the design of this production, every bit as grandiose as anticipated from its palatial title. As I make my way through each segment (five or six to choose from in whatever order you please), I am struck by the beauty and detail in each setting, all designed and lit well.
The cast work well together, with the aid of a well-focused assortment of crew and hosts, to guide us through the interweaving narratives without forcing any particular routes or choices. Particularly charming were Ella Prendergast, Steffi Walker and Emer Dineen as Tom, the Mermaid and Gretel respectively. Their audience interaction skills were top-notch as A+ hosts, emcees and storytellers, able to get their narratives within what was very much performative conversation rather than straight monologuing.
One of the difficulties with this kind of promenade theatre is that when given the choice to choose-their-own-story, as it were, the audience risks missing out on details that may later prove essential. This was my experience when, in the finale, a character and conspiracy surfaced that I had not encountered, or even really heard reference to. Nonetheless, my experience was not particularly diminished by this.
A missed opportunity occurred when I was given a secret message from one of the characters to provide to another. Anticipating something of an Easter egg, I made sure to deliver, but the performer seemed to have no idea what I was talking about, leaving me all the more perplexed as to the point of my cryptic code.
I suppose, by the end of the evening, this felt slightly symptomatic of my only significant problem with Red Palace. I felt as though, whilst the cast are clearly very capable, the web of dialogue and interactions woven for them to play with was a little underbaked. This is not to say that anyone failed to execute their individual narratives; just that it was tricky to see where they all tied together. I hope, and have every confidence, that this will only improve over the run.
All in all, Red Palace is a magical evening out, offering the promised feast and fantasy by the bucket but I would prefer that this fairy-tale inspired evening was able to match the ethereal with equal doses of overarching story.
Review by Ben Powell
Showcasing cabaret, circus, dance and genre-defying performance, the cast has been announced for London’s new immersive masquerade ball, Red Palace. Shotgun Carousel invite their audiences to be escorted by a glorious array of audacious characters through swirling revelry to a place of glamour, danger and transformation where they can find their own fairy tale ending.
The wholly female and non-binary cast of players, aerialists and cabaret artists includes Ella Prendergast (Secret Cinema presents Bladerunner: The Final Cut), Teddy Lamb (Since U Been Gone, HighTide), Porscha Present (Divine Proportions, The Vaults) and Emer Dineen (The Dark Side of Love, Camden Roundhouse). Actors and circus artists, EM Williams (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Harold Pinter Theatre), Rosie Rowlands (Anna Nicole, Royal Opera House), Emily Essery (Doctor Dolittle, UK tour), and Rebecca Solomons (Hive City Legacy, Roundhouse) will also join the company. Completing this ensemble production are Steffi Walker (Baba’s War, White Bear Theatre and War Festival), Megan Ford (Feminasty, UK tour), Eleanor Dillon-Reams (HoneyBEE, Edinburgh Fringe), Camilla Harding (The Tempest, Rose Playhouse), and Alice Morgan-Richards (Alice’s Adventure’s Underground, The Vaults).
Cast on Press Night
Karen (aerial) – Rosie Rowlands
Cat – Joanna Vymeris
The Prince – Eleanor Dillon-Reams
Tom – Ella Prendergast
Snow – Alice Morgan-Richards
Gretel – Emer Dineen
Baba Yaga – Porscha Present
The Mermaid – Steffi Walker
Red – Emily Essery
Wolf – Teddy Lamb
The Vaults, Leake Street, London SE1 7NN
Tuesday 24th September 2019 – Sunday 12th January 2020