The Little Prince

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Joe Nicholson

at 17:19 on 7th Aug 2011

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Anticipation began on the walk up to studio 2a in C Soco, which is up several flights of old stairs, leading to a darkened and old studio, leading nicely into the stage space which consisted of an eclectic array of cushions and seating in a circle. Upon entering, you are confronted by the six actors playing children who are running around, energetically playing: a commendable move on Rafaella Marcus’s part to really involve the audience into the storytelling atmosphere. Each child is dressed in 1950s clothing, admittedly a clichéd resurrection of Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis tropes, but one which seems comfortable to watch.

What is special about the OUDS interpretation of the Little Prince story is the solid engagement with the idea of the children’s story. Ziad Samaha’s Pilot is an effective and assured storyteller, working with the actors playing the children on stage, but also by default the audience, who surround the action and are explicitly involved: Samaha at one point describes the spectators as “grown ups” who are in need of help to understand the message of the Prince.

This dual storytelling element adds to the strongly heartwarming nature of this play, which builds throughout in the expression of the innocence of childhood and the exploration of the themes of love and attachment. Sitting on cushions amidst the action, despite the vague discomfort, definitely helped the audience to believe in what we were shown and to be absorbed into the story. The use of the props which create the playroom to enact the scenes of the plane crash is particularly effective, especially in Marcus’ decision to blur the boundaries between the children’s games and the representation of the Pilot’s story through play.

The actors playing the children did very well, creating an enjoyable and simple presentation of the playroom. Each of these took up another role within the Pilot’s story of the Prince, Alex Jeffries’ Geographer and Jordan Walker’s King especially standing out. Lucy Fyffe’s Prince was also a success, capturing the dreamlike innocence of the character, preparing the audience for a moving conclusion to a heartwarming and satisfying production.

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Ramin Sabi

at 09:25 on 8th Aug 2011

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The Little Prince – 7th August, 3:45pm

Four Stars

This heart-warming tale about a prince from an alien world that regales a wartime pilot stranded in the desert with stories of his encounters with people of various sorts on various planets has been adapted with fantastic ingenuity both by the writer Theo Merz and director Rafaella Marcus for this Oxford University Drama Society production.  Set in a 1940s classroom, the cast does a superb job of playing the innocent young children the pilot (Ziad Samaha) narrates his story to. The audience is sat on an array of period furniture and cushions surrounding the stage area, which is itself littered with a seemingly infinite number of perfectly selected objects that are used as props in a number of guises throughout the performance. This along with the spot-on cast creates the perfect atmosphere for the classroom that engrosses the audience wholeheartedly.

There were a number of standout performances in the different vignettes on which the play is constructed. Jordan Waller shines amongst the ‘children’ (none of whom do we remember are actually adults), with his child-like vocals and physicality, making us believe quite fully that we are looking at a playground. Mary Flanigan, who becomes the alcoholic as the story is narrated, despite having just a few minutes on stage in this character evokes an incredibly powerful emotional response with the intensity of devotion to her very sad part. Lucy Fyffe, who plays the Little Prince himself, captures the wide-eyed innocence on the surface of the character, but also goes deeper into the part in subtly establishing the feeling of compassion and mourning for those around him that underlies the themes of the play.

Marcus’ direction creates a perfect pace to allow the ideas and emotions behind the play to unfold – both with the exuberant rush of excitement at the beginning and with a slower but no less engaging movement as the play progresses. Every aspect of the circular space created is used to its fullest, leaving the impression that care was taken for every detail. The precision of what at times seems almost improvised considering its freshness allows the audience to be immersed in the piece and feel the sadness of growing up, the fear of what other humans are like and what we will become, but also the hope demonstrated by human compassion.

The main criticism I would have with this piece is that if you are unfamiliar with the original book (which I was), the narrative at times might be difficult to follow considering the madness of all that is going on. There is also the question of the limitations of the nature of the piece. While I don’t feel there are many better things that could be done with material in this production, the choice of subject means that there is only so far the clearly talented cast and production team can go towards creating an outstanding piece of theatre.

Nonetheless, this very charming production, suitable for children and adults alike, is extremely well conceived, executed and performed. It will make you laugh, cry and feel a little bit like a prince.

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