The Little Prince
Hampstead Theatre Winter 2008-2009
I must begin by confessing that much of the charm of Saint-Exupery's fable (once you get past the boa constrictor who swallowed an elephant) has eluded me over the years.
But most people find its whimsy and pathos adorable, and they should find a lot to enjoy in this holiday offering adapted and directed by Anthony Clark.
Certainly it is far more successful than my two previous experiences of attempts to dramatise it, the moribund 1974 film and the 1981 Broadway musical that closed before opening night.
Clark has actually strengthened the material by giving it a shape and focus that I don't remember from the original.
Saint-Exupery's picture book tells of an aviator who crashes in the Sahara and, while working to fix his plane, encounters a boy who claims to be from outer space.
The boy's tales of his life on his tiny asteroid and others he visited warm the skeptical aviator's heart, making their separate departures for home bittersweet.
Anthony Clark's production and Jessica Curtis's design wisely follow the images of Saint-Exupery's illustrations, with actress Jade Williams in a Harpo Marx frightwig and the Little Prince's brightly coloured costumes.
Simon Robson plays the pilot and narrates, keeping the inevitable oily jollity of a TV kids' show presenter to an absolute minimum. Julie-Alanah Brighten and Christopher Staines play Everyone Else, with Brighten's vain and airheaded Rose and Staines' lonely Fox particularly attractive.
It's been a while since I last read it, so maybe this is in the book, but it seems to me that adapter Clark has given a structure to the Prince's interplanetary wanderings.
He makes them all lessons in how very silly grownups can seem to a clearheaded child, while the moral of the story ('What is essential is invisible to the eye. It is only with the heart that one can see.') does seem to grow more organically out of the adventure rather than being imposed on it.
Those are things that will matter to adults in the audience, giving the tale some body to counterbalance its sweetness. Children will certainly enjoy the colour, the pleasant little songs (music by Mark Vibrans),the sometimes silly secondary characters and the basic premise of a child-adventurer who helps and teaches a grownup.
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The Little Prince - Hampstead Theatre 2008