In association with Peepolykus, Tobacco Factory Theatres’ The Light Princess, directed by John Nicholson, succeeds on many levels. That something special was in the air was immediately apparent as you entered the theatre itself – the usual simple black-draped entrance had been transformed into a wall of trees and flowers twinkling with lights. A slight mist hung in the air, while large white candles marked out the front of the stage area.
Nicholson says in his programme notes that he had read a million stories to pitch for this year’s Christmas show when he stumbled across George MacDonald’s story one afternoon. He describes the tale as a gorgeously silly idea. A baby princess is cursed by her father’s revengeful sister, Princess Makemnoit, who has been overlooked and not been invited to the baby’s christening. She condemns her niece to losing her gravitational pull to the Earth, only to discover later that the curse fails to work when the princess swims in a beloved lake. “If you try to apply logic to it, it sifts through your hands like sand,” says Nicholson. But in this production, acting, stage setting, music, props, costumes, sound and lighting all come together in such an imaginative, witty and delightfully creative way as to ensure not a single grain slips through the fingers.
Far from being tortured from her curse, the Princess finds extraordinary freedoms from her ability to ‘float’ above humanity and see its failings from a distance. She develops an anarchic pleasure-centric attitude to life with which she imbues other members of her father’s kingdom. Hers is a feminist message of empowerment and enlightenment, and fleeting freedom. Based on the Sleeping Beauty theme, MacDonald’s story, published in 1864, is a work that serves as allegory for generational struggle and rights of passage.
Suzanne Ahmet gave the Princess a beatific presence throughout, whilst round her there were eye-catching performances, particularly from Amalia Vitale as the very funny lady-in-waiting Humdrum, and later as Lauren in a hysterical cameo as a cursed reptile. Rew Lowe as Kopykeck and the doctor, but especially as the horse – surely the world’s first equine mindfulness consultant, filled the stage whenever he was present. These two were backed by the excellent Julie Black as the evil Makemnoit and the Queen. The more traditional roles of King and Prince were given spice and gravitas by Richard Headon and Richard Holt.
Also gliding onto the stage to give the story another dimension entirely was the very talented Musical Director Verity Standen. Dressed in neutral black she led the cast in a series of syncopated acapella pieces that ranged from R&B close harmony to scat jazz. One song, Falling, was mesmerising and worth the entrance price alone.
The staging of the show was a delight. I loved the use of back-projected shadow puppets to illustrate the princess’s weightless moments, and the journey below the lake by Makemnoit and her sidekick Lauren. Weightless babies, on-stage water features and a talking moose head all added to an absorbing and very entertaining mix. By the end, this Christmas show had inspired an ecstatic reaction from the audience. Following last year’s Tobacco factory Theatres’ smash hit 101 Dalmatians, The Light Princess keeps the bar set high and deserves all the accolades that surely must come its way. ★★★★★ Simon Bishop 4th December 2015