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October 14, 2013 5:44 pm
Folk in fairy tales are forever venturing into the woods to wrestle with fantastical problems. It’s in keeping then that the creative team for this wonderfully ambitious new musical should tackle not just any old fairy story, but one with a heroine whose feet never touch the ground: a logistical nightmare for a stage show. And, as in fairy tales, the biggest challenges bring out the best in the adventurers, in this case singer-songwriter Tori Amos, playwright Samuel Adamson, director Marianne Elliott and designer Rae Smith. The love duet in The Light Princess, with the earthbound prince (Nick Hendrix) gradually drawing the floating princess out of the air towards him, is one of the loveliest I have ever seen.
This staging is studded with such gorgeous, magical moments, and it has a stunning lead performance from Rosalie Craig as the princess, who not only sings exquisitely but does so hovering upside down. But while such scenes soar away, others labour to get off the ground and the show struggles to cover too much.
Based on a story by Victorian writer George MacDonald, it picks up on many fairy-tale themes: motherless children, misguided fathers, strange physical attributes that express psychological states. Here the prince of one realm and princess of another both lose their mothers. The prince’s response to grief is to sink into a grave heaviness; the princess, in contrast, protects herself from pain by becoming so light-hearted that she physically floats. When their countries go to war, the two meet and embark on a path towards love, maturity and hope.
The creative team work as one to bring this curious, metaphorical other-world to life. Amos’s music drives the whole work, the restless, shifting, intricately patterned score becoming part of the texture of the piece. It is largely sung-through, with a few stand-alone songs, and the music darts and loops with the story. The lyrics meanwhile (Adamson and Amos) are often droll, puncturing sentimentality with mischief. Smith’s storybook designs are enchantingly strange and Elliott’s brilliantly inventive direction is all about make-believe: she shows you how the princess floats, but it soon ceases to matter.
What holds back this fairy-tale carriage is the luggage: there’s just way too much. Noisy warmongering, ecological concerns, eating disorders, physical abuse, restless citizens: it’s packed and the plot suffers. Many scenes don’t get time to breathe or characters to develop, so you feel pummelled. It’s daring, beautiful and original, then, but gets tangled up in ideas.
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