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The Little Prince at The Playground Theatre

The Little Prince - Photo credit Tom Olney
The Little Prince – Photo credit Tom Olney

Almost necessarily, this adaptation of The Little Prince has a tendency to be highly descriptive, but not, by its own admission, in the way “grown-ups” would describe things. The narrator, Martin Oelbermann (who, funnily enough in a one-man play, plays everyone else in the show as well) suggests to the younger members of the audience that adults contextualise too much, or otherwise under-contextualise. Either way, not being able to see the wood for the trees, they are “very strange”, and much caution and patience must be taken in dealing with grown-ups. A house cannot, for instance, be merely described in terms of its beauty and charm, insofar that it is only when its location and market value is known that a grown-up can appreciate it.

It is sometimes said that someone is on another planet, or in their own little world, a proverbial phrase for not (seemingly) paying attention to what is going on around them. But what if, assuming a suspension of disbelief at the theatre door, this idiom were to be taken literally? The idea of people having their own planets may sound like a zany concept out of The Book of Mormon musical, but the observations the narrator makes about people utterly consumed by whatever it is that gives them a degree of satisfaction is both amusing and thought-provoking.

Oelbermann adopts a very measured delivery style overall, making the few moments of relative hyperactivity all the more engaging. A good rapport is established very quickly with the audience as a whole, although some of the very youngest children, I suspect, will struggle slightly to grapple with the surprisingly complex themes. In terms of plot, however, I do not believe the story to be too sophisticated to comprehend.

Some impressive physical theatre adds some sparkle and delight to proceedings. There’s the occasional bit of music, but remarkably few sound effects. Projections of still and moving images make frequent appearances (in most versions and translations of the original book, because of the way the story is told, it is difficult not to take the illustrations into account when reading it) – but essentially, this is good old-fashioned storytelling. The music does not swell to try to heighten the audience’s senses, and the stripped-back approach taken here manages to find inventive ways of asserting a range of human emotions from elation to despair.

The performance space is used to the full and includes an ingenious way of depicting the stars of the night sky. If so many of the show’s characters are other-worldly, this creates a distancing effect that allows their conduct to be observed relatively objectively. Some characters, however, are mentioned in a particular scene, and in that particular scene only, and I wonder if, having achieved such a faithful rendering of the original book, an opportunity to take out one or two extraneous characters may have been missed.

It’s particularly appealing as a show for children where nuance reigns, particularly for this Playground Theatre run during what is pantomime season in a lot of other places. This play is far, far removed from the riotous atmosphere of baddies being booed and copious amounts of sexual innuendo. A thoughtful, subtle and scintillating performance.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

When a pilot crashes his plane in the Sahara Desert, he meets the little prince who has left his home, Asteroid B612 to take a journey across the universe in order to understand how to love his rose. Caught between life and death, together they discover the secret of faith, friendship and the fragility of the human heart.

Written by pioneering pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince tells an extraordinary tale about childhood, friendship, love, loss and faith. The novella is the most widely translated book ever, after the Bible. It has been translated into 300 languages and dialects and, in France, it has been voted the best book of the 20th Century. Saint-Exupéry who had many near-fatal air crashes himself, including one in the Libyan desert, disappeared during a reconnaissance flight for the Allied Forces in 1944. Many years later, his plane was found in the Mediterranean Sea. It is believed that he was shot down.

In this new translation by Ros and Chloe Schwartz, The Little Prince is performed by London based German
actor/director Martin Oelbermann. Employing circus, physical theatre and a minimalist approach, the work invites its audience to stay true to their childhood dreams and to carefully protect the inner child. It is a passionate call to nurture a child’s talent and a reminder of how we are all more in need of praise for trying rather than for succeeding.

Playground Theatre
Presents
The World Premiere of THE LITTLE PRINCE By Antoine De Saint-Exupéry
Translated by Ros and Chloe Schwartz
Directed and performed by Martin
Oelbermann
The Playground Theatre
Unit 8, Latimer Rd
London, W10 6RQ
15th December 2017 to 7th January 2017
http://theplaygroundtheatre.london/

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