The Light Princess*** (National Theatre Lyttelton, 17 October 2013)

Posted: October 17, 2013 in Theatre

photo-91If Rufus Norris wants to ensure that his tenure as head of the National is a success, maybe he should simply appoint Marianne Elliott to direct every production. Returning to the home of her triumphs with “War Horse” and “The Curious Incident…”, she has created a musical show that is, in the first half at least, as magical as anything I have seen in six decades of theatregoing. Taking a children’s story of a princess who loses her gravity and her ability to cry whilst grieving for her mother and then floats around aimlessly until saved by her handsome prince, she has conjured up a world of wonder. The princess defies gravity, birds fly around, small animals inhabit all parts of the stage, characters swim with fish in a lake and it all comes together seamlessly. The “War Horse” trick of using near invisible puppeteers is repeated, but, in this case the princess is often a human puppet and Rosalie Craig in the title role shows astonishing balletic skill. It all provides a stunning spectacle, choreographed to perfection, giving so much magic to a show that, sadly, brings very little magic of its own. The story is as light as the princess herself, the hero and heroine are not consistently sympathetic and the villains are not sufficiently villainous. However, most disappointing of all is Tori Amos’ score which is bland and lacking in both variety and melody; it is difficult to identify songs as such, mostly we just get sung dialogue, but when the characters sing about gravity, it reminds us of another similar show and puts everything here into perspective. Leaving aside the brilliant staging, this is nowhere near as good and nowhere near as much fun as “Wicked”. It also seems crazy that the National is promoting the production as suitable for 13+ ages, thereby excluding a large part of the audience to which it will appeal most; if this is because the story includes a pregnancy out of wedlock, someone needs reminding that this is 2013. In the end the show may be judged as another triumph for Ms Elliott, but perhaps the nature of her achievement should be seen less as creating a hit, more as saving us from the biggest turkey this side of Christmas.

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