Review: Young Pretender – Pulse Fringe Festival

The road to freedom is never easy; despite the best of intentions, there is always going to be setbacks. When you’re just 24, trying to follow in your father’s illustrious footsteps, and have the expectations of a nation on your shoulders, the road is going to be even more difficult.

For Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Maria Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, the weight of expectations weighs heavy on his young shoulders. In Young Pretender, E V Crowe’s look at the how his life changed in the space of one pivotal year, from leading the Jacobite uprising of 1745 to fleeing for his life disguised as a woman.

Nabokov’s production is still in the development stage but, even at this early stage, this script in hand performance shows much promise.

On the eve of his 25th birthday, Charlie is reflecting on his role and the pressures he faces in trying to secure a free Scotland. There’s a huge amount of expectation on the young prince and a responsibility with which he does not always feel comfortable. Paradoxically, for a man expected to lead them into freedom, there is also an expectation from the Scots for Charles to be one of the people, a conundrum he sums up well himself ‘Everyone expects me to be normal, but I’m not fighting for normal things’.

The play also looks at what made the army follow this young leader. Despite his self doubt, this was a man who inspired unconditional loyalty, a strong salesman in the belief of a free Scotland, regardless of the price.

The Young Pretender itself never looks at the pivotal battle of Culloden, focusing instead on the run up and the aftermath. It is perhaps in this aftermath that we get to come to understand the real emotions of the man as he comes to terms with defeat. As Flora MacDonald prepares to smuggle him to Skye dressed as her Irish maid she quizzes him on the death of her own father in battle but, at this stage, the orphaned daughter seems more of a warrior than the battlefield scarred Charlie. Her lust for bloody detailed at odds with his calm reflections. For her it is something of a disappointment meeting her hero but Charlie’s charisma still commands loyalty.

Director Joe Murphy draws out fine performances from his three strong cast. Sensibly, he allows the relationships between the trio to develop naturally, allowing a strong focus on character and emotion.

It will be interesting to see how the piece develops into a fully staged production and one hopes that the intimacy of the language and performance isn’t lost once movement is added.

The Young Pretender provides a fascinating insight into one of the pivotal characters in UK history and inspires you to go off and do more research into this often romanticized character.

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