One year before he was lost in an air-bound spying mission in 1944, the French writer and adventurer Antoine de Saint-Exupery published his extraordinary children’s story, The Little Prince, in which a pilot crashes in the Sahara desert and is visited by an inquisitive, philosophical child from another planet, who flies in with a flock of birds.
Hampstead artistic director Anthony Clark has revived his own adaptation (from a translation by Katherine Woods) with music by the late Mark Vibrans – first seen at the Contact in Manchester in 1986 – as a low-tech, Jackanory-style Christmas show that eventually manages to pack a fairly poignant punch and overcome its own sententiousness.
The straw-haired prince is a creature of the stars, borne aloft on a parachute of white Picasso doves, who warns the pilot of dangers to the planet from dangerous trees, as opposed to carbon emissions, and tells stories of kings abandoned by their own people and businessmen who have tried to deal in the galaxy and have been credit-crunched in their own deviousness.
Jade Williams plays this sage little Daniel type with an eager innocence and a bell-like singing voice, trussing up her hair in the statutory blonde wig and her body in an olive-green jumpsuit. Her foil and confessor is the stranded pilot, played with avuncular tolerance by Simon Robson. Robson also doubles as one of two pianists at either side of the stage and recovers from a sticky start as an introductory emcee in a dinner suit.
The show suffers seriously from a lack of momentum in the first half, even though Jessica Curtis’s design is an ingenious and simple orange landscape (complete with wrecked biplane and a big propeller) which turns around to accommodate the prince’s travelogue on the other planets. The second half picks up with its tales of kings, drunks and bored lamplighters, all of whom are studies in loneliness; Saint-Exupery’s great theme was the humanity of the solo voyager in an awe-struck sort of pantheism.
The prince’s friendship with an ordinary red fox, and the consolation of his companionship with the pilot, ensure the happy ending, the oasis in the desert. Christopher Staines plays a variety of roles including a rattlesnake and a blinkered geographer, while Julie-Alanah Brighten chips in with a lolling, selfish rose on the prince’s home planet B612. A good seasonal bet for well-behaved, undemanding seven-year-olds and upwards.