The Light Princess, Tobacco Factory


Originally written for the Guardian.

The Light Princess is having a moment. George MacDonald’s 19th-century story has been something of a footnote in the fairytale canon, but now – just two years on from the ambitious Tori Amos musical at the National Theatre – it’s receiving a second, deliciously silly staging courtesy of Tobacco Factory Theatres and Peepolykus.

Where Amos and co padded out the plot of MacDonald’s tale, this version sticks to the basics. As an act of revenge by her snubbed aunt, the princess of the title (an infectiously joyful Suzanne Ahmet) is cursed with levity of body and mind. She can’t keep her feet or her mind rooted to the earth, and laughs up among the clouds instead. When a gloomy, gravity-bound prince (Richard Holt) arrives searching for a wife, it’s the perfect match.

A weightless heroine presents obvious staging challenges, which John Nicholson’s production meets with knowingly shambolic solutions. Some wobbly shadow puppetry and a heavy dose of make-believe compensate for the lack of aerial stunts, deliberately exposing the mechanics of the show.

This yields some fantastic gags, especially from a scene-stealing Amalia Vitale in various supporting roles, though the company could ease up on the arch nods and winks.

So intent is The Light Princess on being funny that often clarity of plot is sacrificed for levity of tone. Luckily, Verity Standen’s songs – all characteristic wit and gorgeous vocal texture – are there to steer the story back on track. Standenorchestrates the show in more ways than one, her court conductor marshalling the chaotic action with a flick of her baton.

This take on MacDonald’s fairytale might be anarchic and disordered, but its messiness is all part of its joy. Like its floating, lighthearted heroine, it unabashedly celebrates the amusing and the absurd – two aspects of life that we could all do with being reminded of from time to time.

Photo: Farrows Creative.

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