REVIEW: The Pirate, the Princess and the Platypus (Polka Theatre)

It’s a heteronormative tale as old as time; little girls dream of being princesses who frolic in forests with their woodland friends while little boys aspire to sail the seven seas with a dastardly crew of pirates. Pirates like to be stinky and mean. Princesses like to be dainty and graceful. And the people behind the hit productions Potted Panto and Potted Potter like to produce plays with alliterative names. They’re also particularly partial to the letter P, so it’s pretty appropriate that their latest show The Pirate, the Princess and the Platypus is playing at Polka Theatre. We headed along on the weekend to catch this not-so-traditional tale about being yourself which is narrated, of course, by a semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal who doesn’t fit neatly into a biological box.

Created by Olivier-nominated writers, Daniel Clarkson and Richard Hurst, The Pirate, the Princess and the Platypus tells the tale of a pirate (Alex Stedman) who wants to be a princess, a princess (Teegan Hurley) who wants to be a pirate and a platypus (Josephine Starte) who is quite happy in her own skin (even if nobody else knows what she is). Both the pirate and princess are disappointments to their parents. Much to his Dad’s disgust, the pirate likes to take rose petal-filled bubble baths. Meanwhile, the princess’s mother (proud wife to a frog who has yet to magically morph into a prince) doesn’t understand why her daughter isn’t so keen on choosing her own happy ending from several variations on sleeping until revived by the smooch of a stranger. When the unlikely pair of pals find themselves shipwrecked on a desert island (following a woefully inept attempt by the pirate to kidnap the princess) they decide to switch places. But they soon discover that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the sea, with the princess missing the finer things in life and the pirate finding things distinctly dull as he awaits rescue in the kingdom’s tallest tower. Should they just return to their old lives? Or is there a way they can each have the best of both worlds? The platypus knows the answer. It’s just a shame that nobody can understand her.

Aimed at ages 5+, The Pirate, the Princess and the Platypus is 55 fast-paced minutes filled with the sort of delightful daftness that you would expect from the creators of Potted Panto; plenty of nods to traditional fairy tales, ridiculous role swapping, some especially silly songs and platypus gags galore. Stedman and Hurley hurl themselves into various roles with infectious enthusiasm while British-Australian Starte deftly shuffles around the stage in flippers, regularly breaking the fourth wall to offer wisecracks to the audience. Jessica Curtis’ colourful set and costume design evokes a world of bedroom make believe where children can use their imaginations to be anything they want to be. And if you were to imagine the ideal show for children, this is everything that it should be. It’s entertaining, is great for the grown ups and offers up a clear, uncomplicated moral without lecturing or trying to be overtly educational. Quaver loved it and immediately declared it to be “really good” without even waiting to be asked for her opinion (which is usually a standard “good” to every show she sees). She especially enjoyed all the references to the classic fairytales. Crotchet is at the sort of preteen stage where providing positive feedback to your parents is distinctly uncool, but she was clearly giggling throughout the performance. Mummy very much enjoyed it too and has decided that her new life motto is Be More Platypus.

The Pirate, the Princess and the Platypus plays at Polka Theatre, Wimbledon from 18 June to 20 August 2022. We received complimentary press tickets to the performance on Saturday 30 July.