Friday, 27 September 2013

(P)review - The Light Princess, National Theatre

Any thought that I might have attended The Critics' Circle Centenary Conference were immediately quashed when I realised that it was being held on a Friday, hardly conducive to those of us who want to engage with theatre reviewing but also have to hold down a 9-to-5 but maybe that was part of the point… Anyhoo, one of the thornier issues that frequently rears its head is the reviewing of previews and whilst the last thing in the world I want to do is resuscitate that debate, I thought it might be an interesting experiment to do things a little differently. 

There are no hard and fast rules about (theatre) blogging and whilst it remains an innately personal exercise for me, there’s no pretending that it exists in a vacuum, cloistered from outside concerns and a fast-changing world. And it seems to me that that is the lesson that theatre criticism as a whole ought to take – railing that things aren’t like they used to be is all well and good but ignoring evolution is just perversely blinkered. 

So I’ve taken heed of criticisms and comments and thus present to you this (p)review of brand new musical The Light Princess which has just opened at the National Theatre. I want to try and give a flavour of the production, which I saw last night on its second preview, but without reviewing it in the traditional sense. So below you will find a spoiler-free preview of the show, with links to interviews and other features and illustrative clips and snippets. Beware, some of the links will reveal some key aspects of the production but it is clear which they are, and you will have to actively click on them to access them - in my world, spoilers are absolutely fine as long as you have the choice not to read them if you don't wish...  

So first things first – how gorgeous is the poster image for the show? Shot by Jason Bell, Rosalie Craig looks simply gorgeous and suitably Tori-esque – a happy accident rather than a deliberate choice – and you can read more about how the picture was composed in this interview with Craig here. The story was suggested by the 1864 writings of George MacDonald and Tori Amos (music and lyrics) and Samuel Adamson (book and lyrics) developed and reworked it into something of a teenage fairytale – it’s not quite child-friendly but it isn’t too far off. The show has long been in production and there's a fascinating wealth of marvellously frank interviews and information about the creative process, its difficulties and delays, from both Adamson and Amos

The heirs of neighbouring and warring kingdoms have both lost their mothers, having issues with their fathers and their grief has manifested itself in different ways: Princess Althea avoids anything serious by becoming weightless and casting off all worldly concerns; Prince Digby has taken the loss far harder and in his grief has solidified into something impossibly solemn. When the pair meet in the neutral ground between their lands – a magic forest-like Wilderness – teenage passion erupts but the depth of feeling unleashes new emotions of all colours, precipitating overwhelming consequences for all.   

As for the show itself, the staging is hugely and suitably imaginative, delving into a more Grimm-like world of darker fairytale. The way in which Althea moves (“I don’t fly, I float”) is stupendously done with a bit of this and a bit of that. There’s a whole load of romance (You are…you are Althea), there’s a huge deal of wryly observed comedy  - intelligent jabs at gender politics as well as more crowd-pleasing moments, there’s even some of my pet hate which proves endearingly wonderful. Visually the piece is boldly striking too – design is daring and movement is fluid

Musically, there’s the real treat of hearing Amos write for men for the first time – Nick Hendrix’s Prince (“sweet of voice as he is buff of bicep”) making a swooning romantic hero and Clive Rowe’s super-powered vocal makes you really want him to release an album of Tori covers. Toriphiles will recognise bits and bobs (I spotted this but there’s probably more) and MD Martin Lowe places a Bösendorfer at the centre of the musical soundscape so there’s never mistaking the genesis of this score. Rosalie Craig has long been building up to what could possibly be a massively successful break-out role for her, her physical conditioning has to be seen to be believed, and supported excellently by Amy Booth-Steel, this brand of Tori-feminism beautifully tempers wildness of spirit with worldly responsibility.

So there you have it – hopefully I have whetted the appetite without giving too much away. I’ll be revisiting the show soon so will post a ‘proper’ review then but in the meantime if you can’t wait, you can read this sparkling marvellous review here. If you follow me on Twitter, then in some ways this is all a moot point as I was more than frank about my opinions of the show,  but this an experiment, I’m playing with something new – it may work, it may not, I don’t know if I’m even going to stop reviewing previews in the future but nothing ventured, nothing gained… 


6 comments:

Alex Ramon said...

Ever the innovator, eh?! Lovely stuff, this, and thanks, of course, for the very kind mentions. The first preview was so assured that you’d think they’d been performing the show for months, and I’m so happy that, after all the hard work that’s gone into it, it’s all turned out so well. And yes, let's start a campaign for a “Clive Rowe Sings the Tori Amos Songbook” CD right here! Imagine Clive’s take on “Professional Widow”…

JohnnyFox said...

What you missed at Critics Circle ... apart from an entertaining turn by Hattie Morahan and some pithy asides from Libby Purves ... was a debate on 'the future of criticism' which was still infected with a lot of closing of ranks against 'the blogosphere' which too many members of the circle don't understand and see as an uncontrolled threat rather than a fresh platform for their own endeavours.

Even Matt Trueman sounded like a Che Guevaran revolutionary at the court of Batista ...

Nota Bene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nota Bene said...

On the night we went, it was 'members' night. So a lot of traditional National Theatre people in the audience. It seems we were the only two who didn't enjoy it...worse than that, we found much of it risible, and the rest disappointing. At the pre-show reception, Nicholas Hytners comments that it had nearly gone ahead eighteen months ago, but was pulled until it was up to scratch didn't inspire confidence, nor did the comment that it wasn't Othello, nor Oklahoma; nor was it Pullman's Dark Materials. We found it very over-fussy, with everything including the kitchen sink thrown in, the songs were weak, with perhaps only the last one being memorable and the staging far, far below The National's normal standards...more on a par with The Hackney Empire at Panto time. Princess Althea was very good and im pressed by singing whilst being turned, pulled and twisted, pulling most of the rest of the cast along, and the clever puppeteering was terrific. So not to our taste at all, but we were the only ones who didn't enjoy it. We scurried away, avoiding the after show party so we wouldn't have to make 'polite' conversation with the cast.

Anonymous said...

The poster is eye catching and beautiful. Reminds me of Vaughn Oliver and 23-envelope in the 80's. I dropped into the NT on the way into work on Saturday morning, and as Othello was sold out, took a punt on ' the light princess'. Having spent a tedious day writing specifications in Clerkenwell, I hopped on my bike and we met up in good time in the foyer.

Firstly, I would like to say I enjoyed the show and wish it every success. I will tell my friends to go see. The three main characters; princess, prince and princesse's companion were very strong in their roles. And the chap who played the princes brother also good, although as a character he has not much to do. Puppeteers / men in black, also marvelous. The rest of the production kind of felt like the pantomime, so it was a bit weird as we swaying back and forth between some really beautiful music and some rather panto narrative.

The two biggest laughs of the evening went to the puppets. I think the dialogue could be tightened up ( and actually there is quite a lot of plot to jam in the time available, so I can see how the gags and script don't get polished). A particular joke that does not happen is the jilted bride scene, which is there only because it is necessary for the plot rather than it actually being on the stage because it is fun to do. Anyhow, I image this can be addressed during the production. Similarly, the lighting needs to pick out the two 'matrix' jokes, which I think half the audience missed as it gets lost agains the the rest of the activity on the stage. Particularly sad as Clive Rowe, is singing while bending over backwards- quite a trick.

Anyhow. Bravo to all involved . Bravo to Rosalie Craig and to Amy Booth-steel and Clive Rowe.

Anonymous said...

appalling music!
ow did she get away with such trite amateurish stuff ? shame on her