'The Light Princess' – National Theatre
More than just a syrupy fairy tale romance, ‘The Light Princess’ boasts aerial effects, fantasy puppets and memorable songs, making the National Theatre a wise destination for those seeking a more grown-up alternative to pantomime this Christmas. Celebrity composer Tori Amos first began penning lyrics with Australian playwright Samuel Adamson five years ago, but the wait to bring this musical adaption of George MacDonald's 1864 fairytale to the stage has been worthwhile.
The action follows 16-year-old Princess Althea (Rosalie Craig), who has been ‘light’ since she was a small child, when her mother’s death led her to bottle up grief, causing her to become ‘gravity free’ and only able to move by floating through the air. This bizarre set-up is depicted through Matthew Robins’ simple black and white, stick man style animations which are a fitting, low key introduction before Althea makes her first appearance, when she floats down a bookshelf.
It takes a few moments before you realise how Amos-lookalike Craig is actually ‘floating’ – strapped to the back of an acrobat dressed in black, who is scaling the bookshelf behind her. This is just one of many inventive ways in which ‘War Horse’ director Marianne Elliott plays with Althea’s condition throughout the production.
Aerial effects involving wires are also put to effective use as the princess floats and twists gently in mid-air. When Althea hovers majestically for a lengthy scene, animated and supported only by the feet of one strong female acrobat, it is human puppetry at its best.
Two kingdoms at war with each other are illustrated through pretty painted backdrops resembling a pop-up book of mythical lands. Lagobel, home of Princess Althea, is a dry desert rich in gold, whereas her love interest Prince Digby lives in Sealand, a maritime town. Between these two lands lies The Wilderness – a forest teeming with puppet dragons. A highlight of the show, these sharp-toothed monsters resemble winged piranhas and attack by swooping down and screeching. The dragons are immensely effective but used sparingly, which is a shame.
Other creations from puppet designer Toby Olié include a mouse rod puppet that oozes cuteness and Zephyrus, a blue falcon puppet animated beautifully by Ben Thompson, who stands at its side like a falconer. A pack of vicious guard dogs resembling sharks also shows fantastic creativity, with actors wearing the puppets like giant masks and scampering about on all fours.
Having sold over 13 million albums in her time, piano luminary Amos knows how to craft a tune and her influence as composer is clear, the score being embedded with twinkly signatures that are familiar listening for her fans. Considering the traditional fairy tale tropes on offer (including patriarchal fathers, coming of age, imprisonment and true love) it’s surprising there are few children in the audience. But 'The Light Princess' is less frothy and lengthier than your typical Disney adaptation. And, alhough it does have the feel of a mature pantomime, it lacks laugh-out-loud humour.
'The Light Princess'
Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson