5 Minutes with Jenny Worton | Prince Charming

We spoke to Prince Charming writer Jenny Worton about how she wrote our new show which re-imagines the fairy-tale character we all know so well.

What was your starting point when beginning to write Prince Charming?

I love the way that young children deal democratically with their problems. So, the problem of a lost vital piece of Lego sits right next to the problem of why do I one day have to die? As a parent I find this dizzying and delightful. It leads me to think about the way I view my own anxieties, and about how easily I persuade myself that they are reasonable… when in fact, I’ve just become more sophisticated in the way I articulate the very things I worried about as a child!

The emotional equality that children bring to their worries is also rich ground for comedy. It allowed me to take a profoundly absurd anxiety, such as Prince Charming’s fear of the Bermuda Triangle, and give it real dramatic stakes. I wanted to meet children on their own ground. So if the Bermuda Triangle is as much a problem as the question ‘why do I exist’ then let’s give both equal treatment. I hope the play gives genuine credence to both, whilst lovingly mocking them in equal measure.

Finally, I wanted to write something about the expectations inadvertently placed on children. I suppose, thanks to the fact I have three boys, I was drawn to the archetype of Prince Charming because it sums up the impossible qualities narrative entertainment often imposes on boys. (My goodness, there’s a whole cycle of plays I’d like to write for girls!) I liked the idea of subverting the archetype, in the hope it might free us from the expectations.

Prince Charming struggles with anxiety in the play. How did you go about making this subject accessible and fun for children to watch?

Comedy and music. That’s it.

No, there’s way more to say than that. A great story. A story is just a useful vehicle for a writer to talk about the things they want to talk about. The better your vehicle, the more fun your audience has, the more attention they give you, the more your theme may resonate (I hope… I’m not really in charge of that bit).

Comedy and music are part of that vehicle too. Music and lyrics can cut to the quick of a universal truth in a way that if you did it with dialogue, it would feel eggy. And music is accessible and emotionally resonant in a way that language sometimes fails to be. I think an infectious beat brings people together in recognition, and a wonderful melody is transcendent. Music can achieve brief social cohesion and it works across ages, and that’s very useful in theatre.

Going to the theatre is about a live communal experience. You temporarily throw off your separateness to sit in the dark with other people who have done the same thing. I’m not sure anything brings me quicker to common ground with another person than laughing with them. In a play called Comedians, by playwright Trevor Griffiths, one of the characters talks about comedy as not merely relieving tension, but as liberating the will and changing the situation. Comedy should be about truth, and it should (sometimes) be brave enough to be about painful truth.

What do you hope children and families take away from Prince Charming?

Worry is something that unites us; not being sure why we’re here or how long we’re here for is part of the human condition. As are all the other particular, myriad and bizarre things we each worry about. You don’t have to a hero and keep these things to yourself. There is comfort in knowing we are all in this together.

I don’t want to suggest there are answers to anyone’s anxieties, instead I’d like audiences to think there might be strange and interesting ways to look again at worry; to honour it, and to find ways to challenge and laugh at it too.

Prince Charming is scared of all sorts of things, from quicksand to lightning. What were you afraid of as a child?

Sadly, just as I said, exactly the same things I’m afraid of as an adult: flying and death. But then I never had a Fairy Godmother to help me out.

How did you become a playwright?

I’m still becoming one.

Prince Charming is on at Little Angel Theatre until 7 April. For more information and tickets, click here.