A Little Princess an ‘old story that resonates’

The cast of A Little Princess rehearses. - Contributed photo
The cast of A Little Princess rehearses.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Surrey Youth Theatre Company's production of A Little Princess brings the popular children's classic to life this weekend at Surrey Arts Centre; with performances at 7:30 p.m. this Friday (March 2) and Saturday (March 3), with a 2:30 p.m. matinee this Sunday (March 4).

Directed by SYTCO founder and artistic director Susan Pendleton, it's a true period piece –  Frances Hodgson Burnett (renowned author of Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden) wrote a first version of the story in 1887, but last revised it some 18 years later, at the dawn of the Edwardian era.

It tells the story of an intelligent, polite and innately creative young girl, Sara Crewe, daughter of a soldier, who grew up in the exotic environs of India.

Brought to London for a formal education after the death of her mother, Sara is placed at an exclusive girls' boarding school run by the haughty, forbidding headmistress, Miss Minchin.

Minchin resents Sara's imaginative flights of fancy – which threaten to disrupt the iron discipline with which she runs her school – but is prepared to tolerate her all the while Sara's father supplies the necessary fees.

But when Sara's father is reported dead as a bankrupt, Sara feels the full force of Minchin's wrath – being allowed to stay on at the school only as a servant.

With strength of spirit – and the help of friends both known and unknown – Sara manages to win through in the end in a tale that is both touching and inspiring.

It's an old story, but one that's still has resonance with kids today according to SYTCO newcomer Julia Albert, who plays the lead role of Sara.

"I think it's relevant to the present day," said the Grade 6 Laronde Elementary student.

"There are still teachers who can be very strict and adults that don't care about your feelings."

Sara's ability to survive through the use of her imagination and games of pretend is one of the character traits she most enjoys, Albert said.

"I like how kind she is to the others," Albert said. "She's so brave, and how she gets through tough times teaches them to be brave, too."

Albert, who also sings with the White Rock Children's Choir (she travelled with them to Europe last year) says she has discovered a real love for acting – even in emotional scenes in which Sara grieves for her father.

"I like singing and performing generally," she said. "But I really like songs where you have to get into character to perform them."

Nic Pusic, who is in Grade 6 at Jessie Lee Elementary, is also a newcomer to SYTCO.

And he's enjoying the challenge of playing Mr. Carrisford, a friend of Captain Crewe, who spends two years searching for Crewe's lost daughter.

"I think he's supposed to be around 70 or 80 in the story but I'm thinking of him as around 50," he said.

"He's a very nice and caring gentleman – I like the role because I've never really acted sad before in any school plays. I'm used to doing fun and happy stuff.

"It's a good experience – I enjoy how it helps you learn how to act scenes and how to take auditions."

Cassandra Strain, last seen for SYTCO in A Year With Frog and Toad (she was the latter) is relishing a change of pace with the gift role of Miss Minchin, which she is investing with an icy, precise manner, quite unlike the "goofy" Toad.

"She's so sure of everything," she said. "She's very collected.

"I think she's a really good fit for me. I think mean characters are more enjoyable to act out – they're more fun."

Not that Minchin is simply a one-dimensonal villain, she noted.

"I made up a back story for her – I think maybe she was abused as a child, and she wants people to know that she has the power now."

The Grade 8 Elgin Park student said she's also been enjoying researching the late Edwardian period of the current SYTCO production.

"This may seem a bit girly, but I like the style of the clothing. I adore that time period – everything about it, the way the new cars were coming into everyday life. Sometimes I wish I could live in that era."

Shubhi Singh, a Grade 10 student at Princess Margaret Secondary, plays the role of Minchin's warm-hearted but timid sister, Amelia.

It's her first year at SYTCO, but not her first acting experience – when she was in India for a five year period she attended the National School of Drama.

"Amelia is a comical character, a rather hysterical woman. She is kind of pathetic – she really likes Sara, but she doesn't want to stand up to her sister.

Inevitably the worm turns, however.

"Everything's building up to it bit by bit, but eventually she realizes it's time she gave Miss Minchin a piece of her mind."

Singh says she's really enjoying her first SYTCO experience.

"It's a really warm environment, and I've learned so much from people even younger than me – it's wonderful," she said.

Tickets ($16.75) are available from 604-501-5566 or at tickets.surrey.ca


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