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Rating: ***

Waterloo East Theatre, London

Summary: Mixed look at love in retelling of 2 Oscar Wilde short storiesurl

Based on 2 short stories by Oscar Wilde (‘The Nightingale and The Rose’ and ‘The Happy Prince’) Freedom tells two stories that explores the meaning of undying in Love.

In Act 1, based on the Nightingale and the Rose, Florica, a young gypsy woman is hopelessly in love with a gypsy philosopher called Besnik. Unfortunately, he is besotted with Helen, a local German woman. To test Besnik’s love of her, Helen asks that he get her a very rare red rose. On hearing this and realising that Besnik is unable to acquire the rose for himself, Florica, blinded by her love for him, decides to do whatever it takes to get him the rose and help win his lover’s heart.

The second story, based on the Happy Prince, centres around the growing relationship between Mr Prin, a very elderly and infirm man who also happens to be Germany’s wealthiest man, and Isabella, a homeless 13year old gypsy girl he finds unconscious on his door step and turns out to be dying of tuberculosis.

Isabella’s openness and honesty shows Mr Prin an insight into his life he had not fully acknowledged, that of a miserly loner, and with Isabella’s help, he decides to make some amends.

This is a simply staged production, with the minimum of setting or props, leaving you to focus on the actors and their words. The script, by changing the birds from the original stories into gypsies and moving the setting to Nazi Germany, adds a much greater poignancy to them. In turn, Wilde’s fairy tales become highly effective modern day stories on the pleasures and perils of love and the cruelty of humankind.

The direction and use of music veers, at times, too heavily into the melodramatic. At times characters speak straight to the audience, as if to intensify emotions, rather than to other characters on stage and music designed to pull the heartstrings appears at opportune moments.

The acting is generally very good though the lack of props does leave some cast members lolling around while the action is not on them. Additionally the drama-school ‘received pronunciation’ accents jar a bit, especially from the gypsy characters.

Act 1 lacks the emotional engagement of Act 2. Characters should have a little more time to develop and engage the audience. Unfortunately, with the lack of this development, they come across as a little bit two-dimensional.

However, these are all minor quibbles for a production that is ultimately sharp, concise and in the main, very touchingly performed. The standout performances come from Jeremy Gagan (Mr Prin) and Bethan Hanks (Isabella), from Act 2. The build-up and ultimate demise of their relationship left many of the audience with tears in their eyes. Not an easy task to achieve in such a cynical world.

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