The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, adaptation, book and lyrics by Anthony Clark, music by Mark Vibrans
Hampstead Theatre
(2008)

Production photo

"Grown-ups are so strange if they lead such useless lives" is a chastening memo from our hero to larger members of the Hampstead audience. Not only is The Little Prince a story of the imagination but it is also a morality tale about human foibles.

This adaptation by its director was first seen in a different version in 1986 and has something of the innocence of a bygone age. The music is provided by a pair of sometimes duelling pianos, one played by musical director Dane Preece and the other by a man who doubles as one of the play's stars, Simon Robson.

Robson is The Pilot, an intrepid flyer who crash lands in the Sahara and then has the kind of out of body experience that could be hallucination, dream or - just possibly - the truth.

It takes him time to get there, as he starts in rather arduous storytelling mode until the arrival of principal boy Jade Williams in the title role. He is a wide-eyed, golden haired innocent from another planet who dresses badly and mixes the wide-eyed innocence of ET, the quirkiness of Robin Williams' Mork and some vaguely superhuman powers shared with Superman.

He also has a knack of landing on one-man or -woman planets, almost every one of which is inhabited by vain people. However, the vainest of the lot is a rose bush on his very own planet who, to be fair, is irritating enough to drive anybody to interplanetary travel.

The journeys get better and better, complemented by some very simple but colourful low-tech designs from Jessica Curtis, which capture the imagery of Saint-Exupéry's 1943 book.

As he travels, the boy from Asteroid B612 encounters a series of eccentrics all played by Julie-Alanah Brighten or Christopher Staines. These include a comic, revolving lamplighter, a hard-working businessman that most Hampstead children will recognise, and end up with a sweet, woolly fox with whom the princely youngster happily frolics, before an unexpectedly dark ending that predicts that of the author.

The last 90 minutes of this low-key play with superb, atmospheric piano playing and songs, is humorous, touching and secretly educational. As such, it is likely that parents of children, especially of girls in the 6 to 11 range, might find Hampstead the place to spend an afternoon or evening in the run-up to Christmas.

Playing until 10 January 2009

Reviewer: Philip Fisher