The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Upon A Mattress
YouTube Autumn 2020
Broadway musical hit of 1959, Once Upon A Mattress was no My Fair Lady,
but a delightful, tuneful and thoroughly entertaining star vehicle, a
prime example of how very good even B-list musicals could be in that
1964 television version, in glorious black-and-white, captures only some
of the show's charm, but enough to make it worth a little over an hour
(90 minutes of American TV, minus the ads) of your time.
show – music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, book by Barer,
Jay Thompson and Dean Fuller – is a take-off on the fairy tale of the
princess and the pea, the central joke being that Winifred The Woebegone
is no fragile Disney princess, but a big, galumphing tomboy who is
exactly what the stuffy kingdom and mousy prince need.
was created as a vehicle for the young Carol Burnett, soon to become a
major television star as the kind of comic actress who used her lack of
conventional prettiness as a comic tool – by which I mean to say she
mugged a lot.
1964 TV version is heavily cut, Burnett's broad comic performance
survives, as do those of the members of the original cast – Joseph Bova
as the milquetoast prince, Jane White as the evil queen, and especially
rubber-faced Jack Gilford as the mute but very expressive king.
Considerably less successful are Shani Wallis and Bill Hayes as the
secondary romantic couple, largely because all their best songs have
Burnett may not be to all tastes – she could never be accused of subtle
underplaying – but the role was written to showcase her, and if she is
going to win you over she will do it within the first minutes as she
announces in braying song 'I've always been SHYYYYYY.'
of my favourites of Winifred's songs, Happily Ever After, has been cut,
but Burnett hilariously dances, mimes and mugs a show-stopping
accompaniment to Bova's A Girl Named Fred.
biggest casualties of this TV condensation are the songs. Those who know
the score will miss the lovely ballads In A Little While and Yesterday I
Loved You, while some of Barer's cleverest (and pre-Sondheimish) lyrics
have been lost, depriving this version of such gems as 'Alack, a lass is
what we lack/We lack a lass, alas alack' and 'My time is at a
premium/For soon the world will see me a/Maternal bride-to-be.'
idea that some of the ladies-in-waiting might not have waited was deemed
too shocking for American TV audiences, and a secret marriage for the
secondary couple was written in.)
Perhaps only those who have seen the full show – it has been revived onstage and, indeed, on television several times – will miss what's missing here. See it for Carol Burnett, for the effortlessly scene-stealing Jack Gilford, and for the general high spirits and innocent fun.
Receive alerts when we post new reviews