Children's Books

Forget your ‘matters of consequence’; look at the stars

The Little Prince

IF you please, draw me a sheep? Christelle van Graan and Nieke Lombard give the Little Prince life and heart. Photograph courtesy VR Theatrical.

ARGUABLY THE CHILDREN’S classic with the most, Le Petit Prince was penned and illustrated in 1943 by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It was one of the last gestures he made to the world before he disappeared in what is presumed a war incident. Now, 75 years later, this tender, beautiful tale about the essence of things has clocked in as the most translated non-religious children’s story in the world. The team behind this production have created something you will never forget.

In the same way that the inimitable British actor Peter Ustinov climbed into the soul of this story in his LP rendition of the work in the early 1970s, lending gentleness and humour as well as unabashed feistiness to something that many a critic has considered to be symbolic, so have the team invested heart here. Their decision to make this production puppet-heavy bears testimony to the complexity of the eponymous character.

The Little Prince, in person, may look like a little boy with golden hair and a laugh that sounds like bells tinkling. He may even argue like one. But he isn’t a human child of this planet. And he escapes the confines of his body at will. These are well nigh impossible issues to represent if you’re a child actor. Or even an adult.

Instead, the VR Theatrical team have created a marionette based on Japanese puppetry principles which is well-rounded and well-played enough to convey the deep emotions that come of being in love, being lonely, having empathy for a tippler and a lamp lighter, and still is able to warm your heart and that of the nameless pilot (Caitlin Salgado), bringing puppeteers (Nieke Lombard and Christelle van Graan) on stage with a live actor. The lyrics are beautifully penned and come into their own in the case of the king as well as the businessman, blending humour and pathos with a sensitivity that is adult and child-appropriate at the same time.

While the deep truths embodied in this gorgeous work are enough to shut a teenaged audience into cellphone-less quiet and focus, the work is not without flaws. For one thing, the cut out puppet who narrates the work is in sharp profile and very severe. It may be difficult for a young audience member who has not read The Little Prince a gazillion times, to empathise with this harsh face. And for another, there are moments in which Salgado’s dulcet singing voice gets lost in the show’s piped music, and one yearns for a single flautist on stage that would make the hand-held, crafted-with-love nature of the piece sing even more.

Interesting and successful gender questions tweak at the fabric of the original story without bruising it, and the work has been very gracefully edited in a way that doesn’t feel text heavy and you don’t miss what has been excised. Indeed, what is important is invisible to the eye. This is a truly beautiful show which has the potency to plant that seed of wonder in even the most hardened and politically correct young trendsetter on fleek.

  • The Little Prince was written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and is directed by Elizma Badenhorst. It features design by Wessel Odendaal (original music and lyrics) and is performed by Nieke Lombard, Caitlin Salgado and Christelle van Graan until November 5 at the Studio Theatre, Montecasino theatre complex in Fourways. Call 011 511-1818.
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