The Light Princess Photo by Farrow Creatives
We’re right in the middle of Christmas season in theatrical terms. One day after Bristol Old Vic open their seasonal gifts to the city, it is now the turn of The Tobacco Factory, the plucky younger sibling if you like, to open their own seasonal offering in association with Peepolykus, The Light Princess. Plucked from obscurity by Tori Amos’ National Theatre musical two years ago, it is not difficult to see why theatre’s have stayed clear and gone for more obvious fare, for a start there is a heroine who spends most of the tale floating high above the sky.
Never one to be deterred, Bristol’s premier clown John Nicholson has taken the tale and along with co-writer Thomas Eccleshare has created a gloriously entertaining take that embraces the zany silliness that should be at the heart of any good Christmas show but without stinting on the darker overtones and a theme that truly embraces pioneering female spirit. For all the controversy over the gender swapping Sleeping Beauty at the Old Vic and what ‘political correctness gone mad; changing the roles does, TF has its own strong feminist presence right here in Suzanne Ahmed’s ballsy, feisty Princess.
George MacDonald’s 1864 fairy-tale, in which a young girl is cursed by a wicked witch to lose her own gravity before discovering that water can keep her grounded as will the love of a Prince, is of a more complex and darker hue than most and this comes across in a production that doesn’t always feel like it knows its target audience. It’s ideas feel too dense and dark for the younger end of the family market and like the Old Vic show it could do with pruning twenty minutes to get its run time to a more child friendly two hours
The Tobacco Factory has been transformed in Phil Eddolls’ immersive design into a fantastical and leafy world with castle turrets, talking moose heads, hidden trapdoors and even a pool which the heroes engulf themselves in. Nicholson uses shadow puppetry, clever lighting and a little bit of rope work to make this Light Princess fly in a deliberately lo-fi but effective way which showcases the theatrical.
After a ponderous first ten minutes, dominated by Verity Standen’s vocal compositions which don’t catch fire in the way you’d expect of the creator of Mmm Hmmm, it soon improves, with some clear storytelling, rollicking set pieces and a production that the actors imbue with love and good cheer. Richard Holt is a little kooky and a lot of charming as the Prince that Ahmed’s spunky Light Princess eventually falls for, while Amalie Vitale is a genuine scene stealer in each of her roles, from a Russian metaphysician to an intern bad witch . With two of the city’s most prominent directors, Tom Morris and Andrew Hilton in attendance last night, one imagines it may not be too long until Vitale returns..
Tobacco Factory Theatres has made a virtue of its Christmas shows in recent years with many going on for further lives. Expect this one to travel as well, it may not be out of their very top drawer, but it’s a reminder that it is people and hope that ultimately make life worth living.