However, as we continued to work through our ideas and narrow down which story we would use, Irene's tale grew on us more and more, finding it's way into our hearts and our heads. It is a compelling tale, and while it does feature more royal characters, this was no simple king vs monster story. This was a story about a girl living in the shadow of her father, forced to have a sheltered life because of her status and who longs simply for freedom, adventure and for those around her to accept her for whom she is. Eventually it became clear that the choice was obvious. Princess Irene and her friends would be the subject of our next project.
This was the first time we had attempted such a complex story. We've had many gripping characters in the past, from then sorceress-in-hiding Ariadne to the magical Merlin and wicked Morgana. However there was an emotional depth to the characters in this story which ran deeper than we had previously explored. That intrigued and excited us. The aim of the Chameleons Group is to push and challenge the group as performers: this story would do just that.
From the moment we started we knew we had made the right choice. The group were excited by the idea of 'The Princess and the Goblins!' It was a story they had never heard before, packed with interesting and likeable characters whom people took a shine to instantly.
Within the first week favourite characters emerged and already the cast had begun to grasp at the complexities of the story.
As the weeks went on we explored the various themes of the story turned play. We looked at Irene's predicament; being trapped in her own home while her father goes away to defend the kingdom.
We looked at how best to portray her struggles on the stage and how to convey her inner emotions to the audience who would eventually watch the show.
As the weeks progressed we also looked at the relationship Irene shares with Lottie (formerly Lootie in the original), her maid and closest friend. This was a special relationship that was really unlike what we had explored before. Our previous projects had seen romantic bonds form, but never one as strong as this between two friends.
Irene and Lottie depend on one another and that relationship was one of the beautiful aspects of the show which emerged as rehearsals went on.
Additionally, there is her relationship with Curly (formerly Curdie), the son of a miner who acts as a symbol of Irene's freedom in the narrative. Curly saves Irene when she sneaks out of the castle and together to initiate an adventure. Irene and Curly's bond is forged when they hear that goblins are coming to invade the kingdom.
Irene lies at first about her identity, but when she discovers that Curly knew who she was the whole time she realises that despite this he has treated her as an individual, rather than the daughter of a brave king as most others do.
The story of Princess Irene began in an old book shop in London's West End over the summer of 2016. We had been searching for a new story to work on with our Chameleon group and after both 'Theseus and the Minotaur!' and 'The Legend of King Arthur!' we wanted something different. Those stories were about Kings and monsters; so we wanted to see if we could find something different. The formula of taking a story and bringing it to life works well with the Chameleons, so we decided to follow that path once again as we searched for something appropriate.
Obviously, both Theseus and Arthur also had male leads, so we wanted to find a story with a strong, interesting female protagonist to explore. It was thus, that when the 'Princess and the Goblins' book emerged from a dusty shelf that inspiration took hold. It wasn't the only option on the table, however, we had a number of stories and ideas for shows that broke the mould of what we had done before. Narrowing the stories down was no easy feat.
Together with Lottie they work to stop the Goblins and save the kingdom. In doing so they uncover the truth, that the humans have forced the goblins underground and those whom Irene initially though were enemies were just victims of people who ruled before her. This is possibly one of the most mature themes of the play, where Irene has to accept what has been done and take it upon herself to make up for it. It is a wonderful metaphor and the cast handled it with a maturity far beyond their years.
Overall the project was incredible. The cast took to the story like professionals over twice their age and worked meticulously on adapting the story for their audience. Their willingness to explore the themes only made the project that much more fun to be involved with and fun to watch. Every week we would work on a different aspect or scene of the play and explore it via the use of drama games and activities. To support this exploration we also had the cast undergo a number of improvisation activities to help develop their ability to experiment with plays characters different ways. This showed in the final performance as the cast took to the stage and shared Irene's story with the world.
All in all, Princess Irene's story may be complex, but that is what made it unique. It certainly broke the mould we had been building and pushed our group to new heights; which is exactly what we wanted and, best of all, everyone had a brilliant time doing it. Well done to our amazing cast for all their hard work!
Head Facilitator- Jake Celecia
Assistant Facilitator- Ben Goulding
We would like to say a massive thank you to Exeter Community Centre for giving us space to run our Chameleons project once again! We would also like to say a huge thank you to Jon Primrose for providing us with a wonderful performance space and (once again) for all of his support of our work. Additionally we would like to thank our brilliant volunteers Mads and Carly for helping us out when we needed them. Thanks everyone!