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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Light Princess
Lyttelton Theatre Winter 2013-2014

The National Theatre's winter musical is a theatrical production of wonder and beauty and delight that will give the most hardened adult the magical experience of a little girl at her first ballet or any child at his first Peter Pan. 

I can recommend it to everyone despite – or perhaps especially because of – the fact that it has some basic shortcomings that would cripple a less delightfully conceived and executed event. 

With music by pop singer-songwriter Tori Amos, book by Samuel Adamson based on a story by George MacDonald, and lyrics by Amos and Anderson, The Light Princess is a fairy tale of a girl who reacted to tragedy by rejecting gravity in all its meanings, living a life of both levity and levitation, floating happily in the air so that she sometimes has to be tied down like a helium balloon. 

She refuses to take on the serious duties of princessdom, even when the neighbouring kingdom plans an invasion, choosing to run (or, rather, float) away rather than lead her kingdom's army. 

Inevitably, she meets the other country's prince, and they fall in love, and they end the war, and she learns to weep and thus come down to earth. It is a thoroughly satisfying modern fairy tale, with just the right touches of both feminism and knowing self-mockery. 

The real delight is in the staging of director Marianne Elliott, choreographer Steven Hoggett and Aerial Effects Designer Ian William Galloway. 

That's because Rosalie Craig as Princess Althea spends the better part of the show aloft, either on a wire like Peter Pan or carried by black-clothed (and therefore 'invisible') figures who lift, twirl and support her as she flies, floats or hangs upside-down, generally singing all the while. 

There are moments of breath-taking beauty in Craig's flying, as in her duet with Nick Hendrix's Prince during which she repeatedly floats just out of his reach as he flies her like a kite. (Think of the dream duet in Billy Elliot.) 

And it's not just a flying show – there are clever animations, delightful or scary puppets, a magical blue falcon, colourful and fanciful costumes, and strong dramatic and comic performances throughout. 

Certainly it is quite a technical accomplishment for Rosalie Craig to sing and act while in constant aerial motion. But she also creates and sustains a loveable, courageous and admirable characterisation, holding us through all the ups and downs (Sorry about that) of Althea's adventure. 

Nick Hendrix is appropriately stalwart as the Prince, with solid support by (among others) Clive Rowe as Althea's kingly father and Amy Booth-Steel as her best friend, and literal support deserving of special applause by the 'invisible' Owain Gwynn, Tommy Luther, Emma Norin and Nuno Silva. 

And what of the handicaps I mentioned? Reaffirming that the show triumphs despite them, I have to say that Samuel Adamson's book is cluttered – not hard to follow, but overfull of episodes and digressions that could easily have been done without – and that the energy level drops significantly whenever Althea comes down to earth, notably in a long swimming sequence. 

And Tori Amos's music is frustratingly unmemorable and unhummable. Every song is plot-bound and full of exposition, the music sounding like the lead-ins to songs that never actually develop, determinedly resisting any temptation to break into actual melody. 

(I confess to being unfamiliar with Tori Amos's pop music, which may have the same unmelodic quality. If so, her fans will enjoy the not-quite-songs here as much as I was frustrated by them.) 

O. K. So the songs are not great and the book keeps losing its way. The Light Princess is still the most magical theatrical experience I've had since War Horse. 

Take your children. Take your grandmother. Give yourself this gift.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Light Princess - National Theatre 2013

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