The stories which Oscar Wilde wrote and published in the late 1880s are, like most traditional fairy tales, not just for children. Myths and legends appeal to an inner eye at a very deep level, as does all great art.
The Birthday of the Infanta as reworked for the stage by Carl Miller poises the charming but emotionally emote Spanish princess as she steps from childhood towards marriageable maturity against the adult members of her father’s court and the entertainers celebrating the occasion.
Georgina Roberts is the solo performer, an androgynous narrator who transforms herself into the conniving and haughty onlookers as well as the infanta herself, the entertainers from puppet-master to tightrope-walker, from bull-fighter to snake-charmer – not to mention the deformed little boy sold by his charcoal-burner father to a troupe of gypsies. It is he who makes the infanta laugh out loud and reward him with a fatal gift of a single white rose.
Designer Jean Chan takes her visual inspiration fromVelasquez’s painting Las meninas as well as [Picasso’s several fractures of it. The movement, including Spanish dance, is by [Ramón Baeza] and the overall direction by Emily Gray.
The masks, costuming and puppets are all excellent and Roberts manipulates a succession of fans and garlands – not to mention the audience – to great effect. The formal gardens with their point-scoring flowers and birds, the supercilious and power-hungry royal uncle, the sad king mourning his wife, the lethargic grand inquisitor and the over-fussy duenna people the stage as Roberts shifts from voice to voice and prop to prop.
Sad as the plight is of the little boy, confronting his own inadequacies in one of the palace’s many mirrors, these incidents drag a little, especially in the second half. Allowing for the fact that the play is billed for children over the age of nine, do we really need an interval in a 90-minute show?