Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book The Little Prince has remained a childhood favourite since it was published in 1943. Now, Anthony Clark’s musical adaptation comes to the Hampstead theatre for the first time.
A slice of fantasy, The Little Prince celebrates the triumph of a child’s imagination over the cynicism of grown-ups. The story is told by a pilot, who is stranded in the Sahara desert after his plane crash-lands. While attempting to fix the aircraft he is greeted by a young boy who initially gives no explanation for his sudden appearance in the middle of the desert. The two become friends, and the child, whom the pilot calls the Little Prince, tells him of the interplanetary adventures that have seen him leave his home on planet B612 and planet-hop across the universe before landing on the Earth. On his journey, the boy encountered a number of local inhabitants, from a conceited man to a star-trading businessman and a geographer. He befriended a fox and taught a King how best to use authority, until an earthly boa constrictor told him how to get home.
Like the fable that it is, the story is laden with morals, but this production is sweet and gentle enough not to come across as preachy. The friendship between Simon Robson’s pilot and Jade Williams’s flaxen-haired Little Prince is touching, and the heartwarming nature of the story is balanced by a strange sadness as the pair’s adventures come to an end and each goes his own way.
Designer Jessica Curtis has recreated the feel of the famous illustrations in Saint- Exupéry’s book for this production, so there are round yellow planets on a blue background, a flight of white cut-out birds and clever use of watercolours and sound to create the plane crash that lands the pilot in the desert. James Farncombe’s lighting is also crucial, providing the desert days and the star-lit nights which pass as the Little Prince recounts his adventures.
Saint- Exupéry was a pilot himself, and once spent four days stranded in the Sahara. The story is obviously influenced by that experience; perhaps he had a hallucination brought on by the desert heat and dehydration. Clark’s production ably creates the fantastical yet simple world that swam in Saint- Exupéry’s head and leaves the audience of youngsters wondering, could it have been more than a hallucination? Only children, the story tells us, could believe so.