THIS gentle piece of musical theatre by Judith Clingan is a timely reminder that you don’t have to shout as if you’re centre stage on Broadway to create a magical piece of theatre.
The central idea of the 1943 novella, by French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is that it’s what’s inside people that counts. So Clingan’s sweet and appealing music, accompanied by strings, bells and other percussion, is perfectly matched to the talents of her young performers from Wayfarers Australia Canberra, who were helped by supportive adults from the ACT music community.
The gentle beauty of the music reached its apogee in the scene where the little prince, played by Ziggy Nock as a slightly rumpled and tousled but perceptive wise-child, speaks to the love of his life, the rose, played and sung by Ellen Brown. Here the full ensemble joined in harmony to create a moment of quiet refinement.
Elsewhere it’s a lot of fun. Moving in and out of the orchestra, members of the large cast become the different characters in Saint-Exupéry’s schematic tale – astronomers, the lazy man, the king, the vain man would run the businessman, the lamplighter, the geographer, the explorer, shop girls and the railway switch man.
Here the text of “The Little Prince” plays into Clingan’s own thematic concerns, as the wise little prince quickly identifies the obsessions of the people he meets on interplanetary journey towards Earth. The tiny confines of the Tuggeranong Arts Centre stage made it difficult to conjure up this journey, but somehow with the enthusiasm of the cast, they did.
At one stage a flight of stick-puppet birds whizzed around the stage; at another the musicians and cast joined to form a succession of noisy trains. One can only imagine how effective must have been in the Unitarian Church where Clingan and her troupe performed the play at the Edinburgh Fringe last year.
Perhaps the most moving scene in the play sees dancer Marcel Cole manipulating a twitchy-tailed fox puppet made by Sydney artist Raphaela Mazzone to create a tender moment of interdependence between human and animal.
More menacing than tender is Ginny Hicks’s insinuating performance as the snake who has the ultimate solution to all problems.
The play is bookended with the crash of the aviator’s plane in the Sahara desert where the prince has landed and the return of the prince to his lovely rose. The conversations of Rohan Vicars as the aviator and Nock as the prince, sometime a bit rushed, form the intellectual substance of the play, while the kaleidoscope of flawed characters support their conclusions about life and love.
The performances finishes with an inspiring song as all the stars come out at night.