The much anticipated new musical The Light Princess has finally arrived at the National Theatre in London. As this is a new blog, a new musical seemed to be a good place to start. I should begin by saying that as this production is still in previews, there are likely to be further changes before opening night on 9 October.
Buidling on the story suggested in the 1864 fairy-tale by George Macdonald, The Light Princess tells the tale of two rival warring kingdoms – Sealand, home of the Royal fleet and rulers of the waves and Lagobel, the inland desert kingdom. Each desires something from the other, Sealand’s water resources and Lagobel’s gold, but they are separated by The Wilderness, home to dragons and other beasts.
The story (with book and lyrics by Samuel Adamson), centres around Princess Althea of Lagobel – the Light Princess of the title – who lost her mother as a child and has literally floated through life since to escape her grief, and Prince Digby of Sealand, who has been so weighed down by grief at his own mother’s death, he has been unable to find true happiness. Each also has a strained relationship with their father and the expectations they have for them. The parallels drawn, in fairy-tale tradition it is clear the two are destined to fall in love.
The staging of the show is impressive and clearly a great deal of work has been done. The sets (by talented designer Rae Smith, whose set for This House I adored) are wonderful and a joy to look at, depicting the two kingdoms and the glorious wilderness perfectly (Althea’s tower home and the wilderness stood out for me). The costumes are also fantastic.
Much of the excitement and anticipation for this production was surrounding the involvement of Tori Amos and, as someone unfamiliar in any detail with her work, I was curious as to what to expect. For me, although the music and lyrics are entertaining and enjoyable (Althea in particular has some fantastic lyrics throughout, which are both witty and heartfelt), I didn’t feel that there was a clear flow from piece of music to the next. Also, unlike Tim Minchin’s efforts for Matilda, I didn’t find any of the music or lyrics particularly memorable and thought some refrains were slightly repetitive.
I also thought that, at 2hours 45 minutes, the production is too long and will benefit from being trimmed down during the previews. The use of the talented acrobats/gymnasts in black to lift Althea in to her various floating positions is impressive from a gymnastic perspective. However I did at times find it distracted me from the actual scene and overall I thought the effect worked far better once Rosalie Craig was on wires.
As for the acting itself, the cast do an excellent job, with a strong ensemble (always important for any production) and superb supporting roles in particular by Amy Booth-Steel as Althea’s loyal friend and Kane Oliver Parry as Digby’s brother (whose vocals are both very good indeed). Nick Hendrix, building on each new role since his West End debut last year in What The Butler Saw, does a fantastic job in the role of Digby, proving to be a very strong leading man, both vocally and in terms of acting. The star of the production however is Rosalie Craig as Althea, fresh from her recent role in the Manchester International Festival’s Macbeth. This is an incredibly physical role and often requires her to deliver strong vocals whilst being manoeuvred in to various positions, something she makes seem effortless. Althea’s fighting spirit and sense of rebellious mischief are also brilliantly conveyed. It is certainly a role that Craig is perfect for and will no doubt bring her much deserved acclaim. The direction by Marianne Elliott (whose recent NT successes are War Horse and the glorious The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time) and choreography by Steven Hoggett are also very good, in particular the opening scene of Act 2 between Digby and Althea in the woods, which must have required a great deal of work by all involved.
Although personally I was a little disappointed by the music, overall this is a fun, entertaining new production and it’s fantastic to see the National Theatre invest in new work of this kind. I will definitely return once the show has opened to see how it has developed.
The Light Princess continues in previews at the National Theatre until it opens on 9th October.
Photo image of Rosalie Craig by Jason Bell