Review – The Light Princess, National Theatre

Monday 7 October 2013

light-princess” I don’t fly, I float” says Althea, The Light Princess of Tori Amos‘ new musical.

And indeed she does. Constantly.

You can’t say that Rosalie Craig‘s princess is barely off the stage as she’s barely on it. Wafting about all over the place, upright, horizontally, upside down and all points inbetween. And singing in those positions too. Impressive. She’s trussed and extremely trusting. Craig’s tightly harnessed up up to achieve these effects and must also have huge faith in those who ‘operate’ her. One also hopes there’s a good physio waiting backstage. The flying floating is brilliantly done, in all sorts of imaginative ways, but since it has been so cloaked in secrecy it would be churlish to reveal more.

And Rae Smith’s design, a happy clash of Moominland and silhouette illustrations is sumptuously pretty too. All stops have been pulled out here.

Based on a Victorian fairy tale by George MacDonald (who looks rather dodgy in Lewis Carroll’s photograph of him shown in the programme) two opposing kingdoms, Lagobel (all very gold and Persian, evoking wistful memories of Paradise Found) and Sealand (Teutonic and blue) have, respectively, a princess whose reaction to the loss of her mother is a Pollyannaish optimism and inabilities to take life too seriously, to cry, or to obey the laws of gravity and a grieving Prince Digby (Nick Hendrix) who takes to solemnity big time. Between the two kingdoms is a wilderness where they meet and of course fall in love.

So a bit of Romeo and Juliet with a dash of Wickeds “Defying Gravity” then. It’s painful to admit this, but one almost wishes that song was present here. Tori Amos fans may love her music, but to a complete newcomer the music was bland, unmemorable and only occasionally threatened to become something vaguely hummable. Phil will not be rushing to explore her back catalogue. Even worse it’s almost completely sung-through. Tedious.

Due to be staged over a year ago and delayed, it’s a shame more time wasn’t spent trimming it down. This was a mid preview, perhaps more pruning will be employed. At 2 and three-quarter hours its initial welcome was outstayed by a some considerable amount. If you don’t enjoy the lengthy 1 hour 20 minute Act 1 perhaps consider jumping ship and seeking amusement elsewhere.

Marianne (War Horse) Elliott‘s reveals impressively imaginative touches with copious puppetry, flashes of humour in both staging and lyrics (Amos and Samuel Adamson, the latter also providing the book) and it’s was good too see she hasn’t abandoned her signature motif of birds on sticks which were previously appreciated by the Whingers here and here. Yet, despite the darkness of its themes of loss, grief and hints of bulimia and anorexia it still comes over as a tad twee. One wonders just who this show is aimed at. Pubescent girls? Didn’t spot any in evidence this particular night.

On the plus side we do get two proscenium arches for the price of one, the Lyttleton’s own and the one of the design which means that half the huge stage remains largely unused. The design looks as if it may have been considered with a transfer to a tighter stage in mind. It’s unlikely this show is going anywhere. But then what do we know? We didn’t warm to War Horse. Look what happened to that.

The first meeting between Aletha and Donna Digby is rather charmingly done but the opening lake scene of Act 2 complete with lily pads, flamingos and copulating frogs goes on for so long you almost wish for the chirpiness of Paul McCartney’s Frog Chorus. Well, almost.

Another Act 2 longueur provoked fears that there might be a telegram from the Queen waiting on Phil’s doormat when he finally returned home. Clive Rowe‘s King Darius is saddled with warbling on for ages as Althea ‘floats’ supported, well, one shouldn’t say how, but enjoy the distraction of just staring in amazement at the physical effort involved. If it feels like an eternity for the audience just imagine how the 3 acrobats involved in this scene must long for it to be over.

Katy accompanied Phil again and when he quoted the lyric “See my tears flow, this H2O” at the post-show postmortem her response was “Well, more things rhyme with H2O than water”. But there’s actually quite a few rhymes with water: daughter, oughta, slaughter and Dame Shirley Porter.

Some were moved to ovate wildly at the end. Even the woman next to Phil – who risked RSI with the amount of watch-checking she did during the evening – found enough strength in her wrists to applaud enthusiastically, so too the woman who had been texting throughout Act 2. Phil was too far away from her to suggest she desist and sadly none of the bird-on-a-stick wranglers saw fit to give her an admonishing poke with their poles.

The extra glass is for the look of the show and Craig’s supremely winning turn. The rest is a floater that rarely flies.


15 Responses to “Review – The Light Princess, National Theatre”

  1. I’ve been amazed at the outpouring of praise on twitter so far. The reaction from the group I attended with was (superb staging aside) unanimously “meh”. I was beginning to wonder if we’d seen a different show entirely!

  2. Weez Says:

    You got Sealand and Lagobel backwards.

  3. Clare Rich Says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Went with such high hopes and just waiting for the music to take off into a real number – never happened. A real case of style over substance. Very disappointing.

  4. Jean Anderson Says:

    mmm really disliked this at first – warming slightly in second half – agree with rating and that you got your Lagobel mixed up with your Sealand! Did anyone else notice the copulating frogs?

  5. Stephen Dorff Says:

    I watched the show and really enjoyed it. I went on the opening preview and realised that I hadn’t noticed the music or songs much. I was quite far back and couldn’t see all the detail up close, but still enjoyed the show very much. The cast, the sets, the acrobats and puppeteers were the highlights initially. I would say it was a six out of ten and recommended it to others as very good, but as a preview I wasn’t sure how the show would meander.

    However I got the opportunity to go back a week later and sat at the front. The music was far more alive, the songs more memorable and seeing the acrobats working to lift and move Althea was really moving. The show had been trimmed down by 20 minutes and the cast were making their characters more defined. Malinda Parris and Nick Hendrick were the highlights IMO. I would give this a 7 or 8 now, leaving the top scores to older or more classical shows and ballets. Definitely worth going to see and maybe going a second time. This has the potential to grow into something bigger.

  6. Sandown Says:

    Tori Amos is a red-head, and so is Rosalie Craig.

    Perhaps Prince Harry could be persuaded to do a flying guest appearance ? In his Apache helicopter, naturally.

  7. takethelimelight Says:

    I do love the poster though 🙂 x

  8. John Goodwin Says:

    Agree totally with this review. The songs are completely unmemorable and merge into one another to the point that the programme doesn’t give a song listing. Also I was expecting much more trailblazing staging than some aerial work, some men in black we “can’t see” and some birds and animals circa “Children of Eden”. Rosalie Craig excellent however and deserves better.

  9. I couldnt agree more with this review. I saw one of the previews too and I felt the same. Too long and I expected the songs to be more interesting and daring, not to be incredibly tedious.

  10. Dominick Says:

    oh no Whingers, I have to disagree, I saw it yesterday so perhaps some pruning has been done (but not much it’s still running at around 2 hours 40 mins I think, didn’t check my watch at all and was too abuzz that I didn’t check when I left the NT) , but I have to say it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. Not “meh”, it’s incredible and inventive!

  11. Diogenes Says:

    Went yesterday, banal trivia. Left half-way,as did many. One clever trick, floating, is not enough.

  12. Glen Moranjie Says:

    Saw this 2 days after Xmas – songs not memorable, but a great night out. I was 2 rows from the stage which probably helped.

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