DanceFamilyFestive 19/20LondonReview

The Little Prince – The Place, London

Reviewer: David Guest

Writer: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Devised by the company

Direction and adaptation: Luca Silvestrini

A magical dance, music and drama version of one of the best-loved children’s books of the 20th Century is among the most inventive and ingenious mini-masterpieces you are likely to see this year. Protein have brought the thrilling and beautiful The Little Prince to The Place in London, a hidden gem of a venue in this instance hosting a glittering treasure of a production.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic children’s story has charmed and delighted readers since 1943 with its timeless themes of life, love, loss and the transforming power of the imagination, but Protein have added a new layer of colour and creativity in this unmissable offering.

The company’s artistic director Luca Silvestrini has adapted the novella with the help of the performers and the result is just over a glorious hour of entertainment which leaves children gasping and adults enrapt.

The allegorical and vaguely autobiographical story by the French writer, aristocrat and aviator tells of an inquisitive young prince from asteroid B-612 who sets off to explore the universe, encountering irrational and largely ridiculous adults on each planet he visits.

The moral of the poignant study of human nature is never to forget childish pleasures and always remember to see what is on the inside rather than just the outside. If that seems on the heavy side for Protein’s first show aimed squarely at children, then it is all the more to its credit that it maintains the story’s grown-up preoccupations without ever shooting above the heads of the younger audience members.

As an inspired piece of dance it’s pleasing enough, but this super-polished production effortlessly combines slick choreographic professionalism with breathtaking design (Yann Seabra’s resourceful set is populated by white orbs which serve as planets, volcanoes and much more), dramatic storytelling, and an enchanting whimsical score by Frank Moon that blends jolly jigs, ethereal classical, outrageous cabaret, Celtic sounds and musical showstoppers.

The book’s famous illustrations are brought to life by clever video designs (Daniel Denton) and by just four talented performers giving flesh and blood to a range of fantastical characters. Faith Prendergast plays the Little Prince with a gleeful whimsy, the sort of naughty friend you know you shouldn’t mix with because they’ll lead you into trouble, but who you just cannot resist. She has a mischievous bounce while also catching the deep thought of a young enquiring mind, a trait with which the little ones in the audience can identify immediately.

As the Pilot Kip Johnson introduces a real sense of the author/narrator sharing the experiences of his quirky new friend after crash landing in the desert. It isn’t easy bringing together speech, dance and music so seamlessly but Johnson nimbly executes both moves and words with energy and enthusiasm. All other roles are played bravely and brilliantly by Andrew Gardiner and Donna Lennard, who between them create a range of truly unforgettable enigmatic eccentrics with dynamic versatility.

Lennard is fabulous (with a terrific costume) as the snake, as a batty king with no subjects issuing pointless commands, as a materialistic businessman more interested in cataloguing the stars than enjoying the beauty of the universe,  as a weird rose garden and as the vain and pretentious rose on the prince’s home asteroid. Gardiner is equally accomplished as the French fox anxious to be tamed, the lamplighter constantly having to light and extinguish lamps on his small planet because the days are so short, and the less than widely-travelled geographer.

The exuberant enjoyment of all of the performers is infectious – so much so that everyone willingly joins in the often silly interaction with the audience. The satisfying blend of art forms never bewilders in this appealing family show which is pretty much a masterclass of its type. Every aspect of the production seems to have sparked the inventive originality of another, leading to a gratifyingly radiant whole.

Runs until December 24 2019 

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