The Prisoner of Zenda

Date 26th January 2019
Society Harleston Players
Venue Archbishop Sancroft High School
Type of Production Musical
Director Eileen Ryan
Musical Director Emily Winter
Producers Helen Farrar & David Cumming


Author: Terry Rymer

Once again in their unique way, Harleston had found yet another innovative way to use the school hall, with the action swinging seamlessly from one side to the other (sort of half way in the round !), another challenge for the cast who had audiences on two sides to accommodate!

The unlikely story evolves around the ‘mistaken’ identity of a lost relative, cousin it turns out, of King Rudolph V (Stuart Purton) who is about to be crowned King of Ruritania, he is dramatically afflicted with a drugged demon drink, and in no fit state to attend his own coronation. He played his part with considerable style!

Now the key character here was of course the intrepid traveller Rudolf Rassendyll , he with a striking resemblance to the aforementioned King, also similarly named Rudolph! With a familial trait of abundant and luxuriant ginger hair, while on vacation, he found his way by various exploits and coincidences in the domain of the inebriant King who was clearly unable to attend the official ceremonies planned for his coronation…the plot twists and turns with a remarkable number of cameo characters (in a total cast of twenty four!), who ‘assist’ this unlikely tale! Each and every one a performance to applaud, as support to the main tale…in which Rudolph Rassendyll (Grant Filshill) is just the most engaging, perhaps a tad naïve, ‘boyish’, but totally watchable and even almost believable stooge, commanding the stage throughout, as all around him seem to either assist or maybe resist his unlikely subterfuge… None less than the dastardly half brother to King Rudolph, Duke Michael (Steve Askew) with his own personal agenda to displace his brother on the throne! Yet another outstanding performance and with a suitable devious, ‘bad’, persona to deserve his just deserts! His sidekick Rupert Hentzau (George Eddy) also deserving an accolade for his duplicitous and almost menacing performance. Having been persuaded to take on the role of replacement King, by the loyal and determined Colonel Sapt (Simon Evans), Rassendyll finds himself falling in love with the beautiful Princess Flavia (Esme Broadbent) in a situation which causes her some confusion. So many facets to this plot…

The depth of talent available to Harleston for this ambitious piece, adapted by the Director (Eileen Ryan), who so successfully did a similar job last year with ‘Around the world in 80 Days’, is remarkable and a credit to a Society in a rural location which consistently produce dramas of exceptional quality. It is categorised as a play with music and there was a sufficient vocal score (music composed by MD Emily Winter), to almost see it as a musical in its own right…the strategically infused songs and under score adding a depth of atmosphere to really engage the audience! A small musical ensemble supported the atmospheric musical numbers without creating the feeling that the songs are anything more than plot development… This new adaptation of a play already much exposed in various media and film is to be applauded for its originality and ingenuity. As the Director observed in her notes, there are so many members of ‘team’ Harleston, that the result is enhanced by so many talented people both on and off stage offering support, not least from the simple but effective set design from David Cumming, using revolving trucks and opposing exits and entrances with cast as ‘hands’ to place and remove any necessary prop settings. This is another first class piece of theatre and I hope local audiences appreciate what they have on their doorstep!