The Light Princess
Book and lyrics by Samuel Adamson, music and lyrics by Tori Amos, suggested by a story by George MacDonald
Lyttelton Theatre (National)
The Light Princess has, at its heart, a grim, run-of-the-mill, 19th-century fairy tale by George MacDonald translated to the stage by Samuel Adamson and set to music by quirky singer-songwriter Tori Amos.
However, what makes this evening really special is the imagination and creativity of a backstage team led by Marianne Elliott, who has a great track record with this kind of thing, for example War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, supplemented by designer Rae Smith and choreographer Steven Hoggett and a host of other backroom stars.
They constantly inject humour and a touch off magic to ensure that, by the end of 2¾ hours, the opening night audience was on its feet for a rare NT standing ovation.
The red-headed Light Princess, Althea is given the adjective thanks to an aversion to gravity, Rosalie Craig literally floating around with the aid of a black-clad quartet who turn the actress into a human puppet, frequently without a string.
She lives in happy, golden Lagobel with her gentle father, Clive Rowe's King Darius. On the far side of a green wilderness live their mortal, blue enemies from Sealand. They are as bad as the Lagobellers are good.
However, the prosaically named heir to the Sealand throne Nicky Hendrix's Prince Digby is a nice enough bloke and, after some parallel disagreements, he and Althea find themselves romantically attached in a lake just as enchanted as almost everything else in this early Christmas extravaganza.
This post-Romeo and Juliet pairing falls into suitably illicit love, watched over by their shared blue hawk, Zephyrus. However, in a fairy story true love needs the odd wrong turning and they break up appropriately acrimoniously. The rest is predictably heart-warming.
This is almost all delivered in a form which is less musical than rock opera with the plot advanced mainly in greatly elongated songs that sacrifice the repetitive catchiness that makes real hits but is still characteristic of Miss Amos at her best.
This would be enough to make for a gently enjoyable family outing. However, what turns this into an instant hit is the visual element introduced by the director and designer along with animator Matthew Robins and puppet designer Toby Olié.
If one were to list all of the special effects that will take the breath away, this review would be triple the length. A small sample should suffice.
The lengthy exposition at the beginning benefits from witty, silhouette-based animation. Once the action starts, puppets enhance it, for example a super-intelligent mouse and hawk as well as some skeletal fish. A bad meal returns with hilarious interest and, in old stage tradition, the bad King's comeuppance is elaborated with spectacular good taste.
The zenith is hit as the lovers writhe around in a truly enchanted lake, which must have taken an age to conceive but is actually very simple.
The result is a rather long, darkly sweet story for all of the family set to music but taken to a different level by Marianne Elliott and her design team.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher