Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Adaptation and Direction: Luca Silvestrini
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
This production of The Little Prince is the first book adaptation and the first show primarily for children from Luca Silvestrini’s award-winning Protein. The company produce a diverse range of shows tackling different themes, blending choreography, text, music and humour – whether dealing with love, society’s obsessions with body image, food or immigration.
The Little Prince is a bestselling and widely-translated postwar allegorical novella for children by an exiled French aristocrat and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with autobiographical elements. The fanciful and rather sombre tale of a young inquisitive boy who travels from his own tiny planet B-612, an asteroid, and visits other sparsely-populated worlds encountering a range of strange adults – a ruler with no subjects, a businessman who endlessly counts the stars but never appreciates their beauty, a lamplighter on a planet with a one-minute day who lights and extinguishes the lamps every thirty seconds and others. The book is about truth, loss and loneliness and the value and complicity of love and friendship.
The novella is sometimes viewed as a Christian allegory and deals with childhood imagination vs the closed-down imagination of adults, care for the planet, and valuing people and things using the heart, rather than from surfaces for the value of accumulation or control.
The show is narrated in part by a pilot (Kip Johnson) airwrecked in the desert, who encounters the boy when he arrives on Earth and spends eight days answering his questions, sharing his childlike drawings and learning of his travels. The narration is shared by two other creatures encountered by the Little Prince – a rather arch French fox (Andrew Gardiner) and a snake (Donna Lennard).
If all that makes this sound like a tricky adaptation it rather is. The design by Yann Seabra is clean and neatly references de Saint-Exupéry’s own illustrations for the book, augmented by video content by Daniel Denton. Frank Moon’s original score is whimsical and colourfully motivates the action. The dancing is rather lovely and is used to denote character, movement and to smooth the transitions between narrative sections. However, the show relies on a lot of text to make any sense of the narrative, in the form of straight narration, character dialogue and small helpings of straight to audience interaction. But this does create a lot of opportunities for humour and character and the company has not dumbed-down the content for a younger audience, presenting some complex ideas, ironic notions and ‘grownup’ words. As the children in the audience paid full attention throughout and laughed in all the right places it looks to be pitched pretty well, but unless you are particularly fond of the book and light of spirit this is probably not an ideal show for unaccompanied adults.
The company do an excellent job with character. Faith Prendergast does a remarkable job of playing the Little Prince with a genuine sense of childlike wonder and intelligence and laughter. Donna Lennard – possessed of a lovely and versatile singing voice – brings to vivid life several characters – the King, the Business Man – in a rather splendid Cabaret-style number, the Garden of Roses and -in voice only, the sole Rose on the Prince’s planet: his love who drives him away with her unreasonable and demanding games and draws him home when he realises her true value. Kip Johnson effectively embodies the child within the man as the pilot.
The Little Prince is an ambitious and intelligent dance theatre show for children and their grownups. Unfortunately, a relatively small audience (in numbers, not height) sucked a lot of the energy out of the cast’s attempts at interaction which left the show hanging at various points. Andrew Gardiner especially was working very hard to generate a consistent response to his fox. The show also treats the Prince’s end with a degree of vagueness that may honour the book but – as the cast rush into a panto style revisiting of the characters to clapping along – leaves a sense that you don’t know how it ended.
Reviewed: 26 November 2019 | Image: Jane Hobson