The Theatreguide.London Review
The Island Princess
Gielgud Theatre Autumn 2002
The RSC's season of works by Shakespeare's contemporaries continues with this virtually unknown play by John Fletcher, which proves to be, if not quite a lost masterpiece, a thoroughly charming Arabian Nights tale of love, honour, villainy and derring-do.
An East Indian princess sets her suitors a difficult challenge, promising to wed the first to achieve it, and while they are busy preparing, a Portuguese soldier just goes out and does it.
He then has to face the opposition of his rivals, the bad guy, and the girl herself before he can claim his prize.
As with The Malcontent, the RSC plays this as much for comedy as anything else, lightly sending up some of the more extreme plot twists and rhetorical flourishes, helping to make the play float along briskly and entertainingly.
Like others in this season, it has been heavily cut, and the RSC, which is constitutionally incapable of doing any Shakespeare play in less than three hours, brings this one in at just over two hours plus interval.
Jamie Glover is appropriately dashing as the hero, Sasha Behar appropriately lovely as the princess, Paul Bhattacharjee appropriately despicable as the scheming villain.
But acting honours go to David Rintoul as a Portuguese captain who first seems the play's hero, is then exposed as a buffoon, and then redeems himself honourably.
Gregory Doran's light directorial touch can't quite conquer all the play's problems - near the end our hero is challenged to renounce his Christianity and adopt the princess's religion, leading to a series of earnest and passionate speeches in defence of the faith that clash somewhat with the light tone of the rest.
The Island Princess is not a play that the casual theatregoer would naturally gravitate towards, but those who find themselves in the Gielgud will have a pleasant surprise and a very entertaining experience.
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