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The Prince review – playful romp through Shakespearean roles

Exploration of transgression … Corey Montague-Sholay (Prince Hal), Joni Ayton-Kent (Sam), Mary Malone (Jen) and Abigail Thorn (Hotspur) in The Prince.
Exploration of transgression … Corey Montague-Sholay (Prince Hal), Joni Ayton-Kent (Sam), Mary Malone (Jen) and Abigail Thorn (Hotspur) in The Prince. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Using the intelligent wit that makes Abigail Thorn’s YouTube channel so popular, The Prince playfully questions the performance of gender and the roles we are all assigned. Thorn is the host of Philosophy Tube, a channel discussing philosophy in creative, accessible ways. The writer swaps screen for stage in this ambitious if slightly feverish exploration of transgression and transition within Shakespeare’s plays.

The hilarious Jen, played radiantly by Mary Malone, is our comic tether to reality. When it’s revealed that she’s trapped inside a Shakespearean multiverse and is currently wandering around Henry IV Part One – a slightly stodgy but enthusiastic version – her response is to yell “I bloody hate Shakespeare” and attempt to call the police. Her innocence serves as an outstretched hand to the audience, helping us understand the motivations of the characters she’s reluctantly stuck with.

As she searches for an escape route, Jen is drawn to Henry “Hotspur” Percy, the warrior and Prince played with smouldering dignity by Thorn. Recognising Hotspur as trans, at odds with the male role she is playing, Jen begins interrupting the action. This is when the fun really starts, as she encourages the characters to question their written roles, and the matrix starts to crumble. Softer, free-wheeling voices replace the stoic verse, and queer punk aesthetic rips apart the period clothing.

With a majority trans cast, glee oozes from Thorn’s playful juggling of Shakespearean language around identity and performance. But the concept at times lacks clarity. A sidestep into the world of Hamlet builds on the deliberate feeling of chaos but also adds frustrating confusion about the mechanics of the world-building.

Nevertheless, it’s a romp. At once a recognition of the fear of change and rejection and a celebration of open-armed community, The Prince is best seen as a theatrical video-essay on what it feels like to step out of the role you’ve been performing for as long as you can remember. By excavating sections of Shakespeare’s plays that speak most strongly to queerness, Thorn makes us look again at these so-studied stories and see these characters anew.

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