With neon lights now flashing at every turn and Christmas markets in full swing, Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre brings us a touch of something different in the festive season. The Little Prince is a heart-warming tale: the eponymous lead leaves his beloved home, asteroid B612, to embark on a journey across space in the name of friendship. On his travels, he meets the lone occupants of various planets who are mostly ill-equipped for anything near friendship, apart from an unlikely fox.
This is a classic tale by French writer, Saint-Exupéry and explores themes of human imagination and friendship. This adaptation (directed by Marie McCarthy) does justice to a relatively complex fable and the script (Sally Pomme Clayton) hovers thoughtfully over different stops across the universe, managing to simplify the plot without losing its charm.
The set (Sophia Pardon and Hazel Low) surpasses all expectations for a small theatre production: earthy rocks and boulders; a broken, up-turned plane downstage left; a puppet plant baobab; a swathe of white lights shimmering above us as the night sky. The detail is astounding, the efforts commendable.
The lighting (Rachel Sampley) is equally creative. A spotlight displays etchings on rocks and there are bright alien greens and reds. A small chasm at the back of the stage hosts scenic projections which transport us through different planets. A lovely moment is when the Prince climbs aboard his trusty bird and we fly across the universe, complete with uplifting sounds (Jon McLeod) and brighter lighting.
Costume is on par, if not more pleasing. What a joy to see the garlanded rose costumes; the geographer even has a map decorating his tie. We must applaud the sheer effort that have gone towards the aesthetics.
The cast is a trio of star performers. Royce Cronin plays Rose and a range of the other planetary occupants. He is entertaining and lends a panto energy to the piece with his large gestures and hearty song, albeit not the most tuneful. The lead, Comfort Fabian, is a charming and perky Prince, brimming with youthful fun and innocence. The star performance was delivered by Vera Chok. Her acting is enchanting as she transforms from the concerned and narrow-minded pilot at the start into a multitude of stunning characters including the fox who is the most engaging character on stage. She involves children in the audience in dance and jokes and brings the room to life.
I cannot praise enough the efforts that went into the intricate set and prop design. This marries perfectly with a story which tells of the limitless powers to the imagination. This is a journey both about the self and the way we treat loved ones and leaves you full of Christmas cheer. While the main themes clearly shine through, clever more nuanced meanings rustle under the surface of the earthy stage, making it a delight for both children and adults alike.
“two very good performances are somewhat undermined by an overly long script”
Jacob Marx Rice’s Chemistry is revived at the Finborough Theatre this month. Originally produced in New York in 2013, director Alex Howarth brings this modern story of star-crossed lovers across the pond to London.
Steph suffers from chronic depression. She’s very glib about the number of times she’s tried to kill herself. Jamie has always been an incredibly high achiever, working himself to the breaking point. When he finally does break, he’s diagnosed with a rare disorder called unipolar mania. Steph and Jamie meet in a psychiatrist’s waiting room. As their casual dating deepens into real love, Steph tries to throw on the brakes – how can they take care of each other when they struggle to take care of themselves?
Howarth’s set is unusual. A large metal rectangle, suspended waist-high in the air, frames the stage, significantly reducing the Finborough’s already small performance space. Presumably the intention is to manifest the confinement of an ill mind, as the two characters never leave this highly restricted area until the final scenes. Beneath the metal frame, tracing the same rectangle, is a mass of intertwined wires and lightbulbs, which suggests the complexity of the brain – its unfathomable tangles of synapses and neurons. Oddly, and perhaps unnecessarily, the performers use microphones for narration, and set them aside for dialogue.
Caoimhe Farren brings admirable genuineness to the depressive Steph. She’s in turn detached, intense, caustic, and vulnerable. James Mear is appropriately high-strung as the manic Jamie. They play their opposed psychologies off of each other well, and do an impressive job negotiating the tight space. However, two very good performances are somewhat undermined by an overly long script. At ninety minutes, Rice’s play is at least half an hour too long. Lengthy monologues, extraneous scenes, and repeated ideas all point to an urgent need for an editor. It’s a slow play, and the overstuffed script makes it feel slower. It’s a shame, because Rice has written some immensely interesting conversations about mental health, and succeeded in portraying depression with authenticity, insight, and unaffected empathy.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was huge the year Chemistry was first staged, and it’s clear the play absorbed whatever was in the air at the time. Rice’s script repeatedly drifts into teenage melodrama, which feels a bit maudlin now. It’s unfortunate that Howarth and lighting designer Rachel Sampley have chosen to push the show further into the saccharine rather than pull it back: warm lights glow in the dark while Sufjan Stephens plays as the fated lovers try to savour their time together.
Chemistry provides a fascinating window into two characters’ unique battles with mental health. Even now in 2019, six years after the play was written, mental illnesses are still so misunderstood. It’s a highly relevant, excellently performed piece that’s in need of cutting and trimming.