Scene 1 - The Prince’s Bedroom
The stage is pitch black as the dramatic opening bars of Tchaikovsky's score are heard. As the music grows more sinister the stage lights reveal a giant bed with a royal crest on the headboard. Tossing and turning in the bed, in the grip of an apparent nightmare, is a young Prince. Above him, the subject of his sleep terror is disclosed – a male swan flapping feverishly; dark, menacing and wild.
The Prince jolts awake and his mother, the Queen, enters his room. As she briefly checks his forehead for signs of a temperature, the Prince reaches for her, but the Queen makes it very clear her son should keep his distance and exists swiftly. The lights fade on a dejected-looking Prince.
Trumpets and a livelier tempo herald the start of a new day at the palace. Soon the Prince’s bedroom is awash with attendants who scrub, buff and titivate him as he prepares for royal duties.
Scene 2 – The Palace
Standing next to his mother on the balcony of the palace, the Prince and the Queen wave to the public and undertake a series of neatly executed obligations including building openings, ship launches and statue unveilings. The Prince appears distracted and disinterested but is kept on his toes by the stringent supervision of his Private Secretary.
A young woman enters the palace, dressed in a short, pink puffball dress. Both her outfit and demeanour are instantly at odds with the rigidity of those around her. After ‘accidentally on-purpose’ dropping her handbag at the Prince’s feet, she hovers around him like a bee searching for nectar. As royal duties beckon once more, she and the Prince set-off in different directions. Soon, the Prince’s admirer tracks him down again and he introduces her to the Queen; who makes her disapproval crystal clear.
With royal engagements completed for now, the Queen departs on the arm of one of her loyal male servants. The Prince and his would-be suitor are reunited once more and enter a coquettish game of cat and mouse, as the girl in pink woos the Prince.
Scene 3 - An Opera House
The curtains rise to reveal a stage within a stage. To the left sits a royal box, soon filled with the Queen and her male servant, the Prince and his Unsuitable Girlfriend; and the ever-present Private Secretary – all of whom have come to watch a ballet.
As the show opens the fidgety and assumedly nervous Unsuitable Girlfriend looks set to ruin the Queen’s evening out. Despite attempts from the Prince and Private Secretary to modify unbefitting behaviour, she continues to aggravate those around her.
Her lack of theatre etiquette is shown in stark contrast to the polite protocol displayed by the Queen. As the drama of the ballet heightens, so does the Queen’s disdain. During the closing moments of a duet between the Nobleman and Moth Maiden, the Unsuitable Girlfriend drops her handbag onto the stage. This is the final straw for the Queen who leaves with her entourage, the Prince included, before the performers take their bows.
Scene 4 – The Prince’s Private Quarters
Melancholic sounds fill the almost empty stage, as the lone Prince stands in front of a large mirror. Looking downbeat, with his royal jacket removed, he picks up a spirit bottle and takes a long swig.
The Queen enters to find her son resting his forehead on the floor – a picture of abject misery. Hoping for kind words and comfort, the Prince rushes to her side, but no warmth is offered. Noticing the bottle the Queen urges him to remember his position. A difficult duet ensues in which the Prince struggles desperately for physical affection. The Queen rebuffs him with increasing toughness.
As she tries to leave, the Prince blocks her exit time and again. Thoroughly exhausted after their encounter, the Queen catches a glance of herself in the mirror. She tidies her dress and hair; and straightens up the hunched over Prince, as if to say ‘stand tall and get on with your duty’.
Making a brief a backward glance in the Prince’s direction, we are left wondering what her true feelings might be. The Prince reaches out once more but to no avail. In the blink of an eye she is gone.
Scene 5 – The Street
A woodwind instrument heralds the opening of a fresh scene. Neon lights that read ‘Swank Bar’ above a dark doorway suggest we are well away from the austere confines of the royal palace now. The Unsuitable Girlfriend arrives on the arm of a guy in a suit – who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. As they approach the bar the door swings open and the club owner in a gold jacket charges them entry. The door shuts behind them and through the ‘windows’ we see a small stage, flashing disco lights, and men and women clearly having a good time. Following, just moments behind, is the Prince wearing a trench coat and flat cap and a bottle of poorly hidden alcohol, in his front pocket. He attempts entry to the club but is initially refused; until he coughs up some cash.
Scene 6 – A Seedy Club
Spotting his girlfriend dancing with another man, the Prince tries to entice her away. She’s clearly cross after having been left by herself at the Opera House and is not open to easy reconciliation. As the Prince watches on in frustration, someone in a mac and dark glasses - who looks very much like the Private Secretary – takes a seat next to him.
Racier music is the cue for the evening’s cabaret act. The bar-goers look on as a patently disinterested and unenthusiastic exotic dancer takes to the stage. With a ‘fag’ hanging from her lipstick-stained mouth she plods through her routine. With the bar’s patrons suitably distracted, the suspicious-looking man in the mac hands over a wad of notes to the Unsuitable Girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.
As the dancing resumes, so does the Prince’s drinking – as well as his vexation at being sidelined. A scuffle breaks out and the Prince is thrown out onto the street; where awaiting press photographers capture his fall from grace.
Scene 7 – The Street
Lugubrious music fills the air as the Prince performs a slow and pitiful solo. Clearly worse for wear from hours of hard drinking, he staggers through a floor sequence, before Swank’s remaining clientele begin to make their way home.
Couples stumble past with arms draped around waists; and the Prince strikes a lonesome figure. Spotting his chance for a night of company with the exotic dancer, the Prince makes his move, but with a shake of the head she turns in the opposite direction.
Again, consumed by his isolation, the Prince continues his sorrowful dance. At once both elegant and awkward, we see the Prince’s inner turmoil represented in his outer physicalisation.
As the club door swings opens once more, the Prince presses himself against the wall of the building. Out steps the Unsuitable Girlfriend and the man in the mac, who now clearly reveals himself to be the Private Secretary. He shakes her hand and presses a handful of pound notes into it; which she tries unsuccessfully to give back.
The Prince makes to follow after her, before changing his mind. With head in hands, he walks back and forth. Suddenly, with the music reaching a crescendo, the Prince looks up to see an image of a swan taking flight. An allegory of things to come perhaps…
As a full moon rises in the sky the Prince sets off in the direction of the swan.
A City Park
It’s still night-time as the Prince enters a park. A bench, a waste bin and a dimly lit street-lamp are all bathed in moonlight. Discarding his jacket, the Prince walks purposefully towards a lake. He stops suddenly, returns to his jacket and finds a pen. Liberating a piece of paper from the bin, he scrawls a brief message and pins it to the lamp-post with a blob of chewing gum.
Arms outstretched, the Prince again makes for the lake; and now with more urgency. He’s stopped by the appearance of the Swan; who blocks his way.
The Swan embarks on an alluring solo, that entrances the Prince. As the Prince moves closer the Swan appears nervous and agitated. The unsure Prince beats a hasty retreat, before running after him again. Tentatively, the Prince begins to mimic the Swan’s movements.
A large bevy of swans appear on stage, dancing in trios and quartets. The Swan heads up a unison phrase with all the swans, who set about enticing the Prince with gentle yet purposeful undulations of their wings. Simultaneously captivating and frightening the power of the swans is palpable.
A duet between the Prince and the Swan ensues and the aggressive, hostile persona of the swans dissipates. They become more welcoming and start to accept the Prince into their fold. The dancing builds to a climax before all the swans disappear - leaving the Prince alone at the edge of the lake.
The Prince is left dazed and confused, yet undoubtedly newly-energised by his experience. He grabs his coat, tears his note into pieces and runs off…but not before grabbing and kissing an elderly lady who has come to feed the swans!
Euphoric and giddy with excitement, the Prince runs and swoops and turns before rushing off with a new found sense of urgency and anticipation.