Any thought that I might have attended The Critics’ Circle Centenary Conference were immediately quashed when I realised that it was being held on a Friday, hardly conducive to those of us who want to engage with theatre reviewing but also have to hold down a 9-to-5 but maybe that was part of the point… Anyhoo, one of the thornier issues that frequently rears its head is the reviewing of previews and whilst the last thing in the world I want to do is resuscitate that debate, I thought it might be an interesting experiment to do things a little differently.
There are no hard and fast rules about (theatre) blogging and whilst it remains an innately personal exercise for me, there’s no pretending that it exists in a vacuum, cloistered from outside concerns and a fast-changing world. And it seems to me that that is the lesson that theatre criticism as a whole ought to take – railing that things aren’t like they used to be is all well and good but ignoring evolution is just perversely blinkered.
So I’ve taken heed of criticisms and comments and thus present to you this (p)review of brand new musical The Light Princess which has just opened at the National Theatre. I want to try and give a flavour of the production, which I saw last night on its second preview, but without reviewing it in the traditional sense. So below you will find a spoiler-free preview of the show, with links to interviews and other features and illustrative clips and snippets. Beware, some of the links will reveal some key aspects of the production but it is clear which they are, and you will have to actively click on them to access them – in my world, spoilers are absolutely fine as long as you have the choice not to read them if you don’t wish…
So first things first – how gorgeous is the poster image for the show? Shot by Jason Bell, Rosalie Craig looks simply gorgeous and suitably Tori-esque – a happy accident rather than a deliberate choice – and you can read more about how the picture was composed in this interview with Craig here. The story was suggested by the 1864 writings of George MacDonald and Tori Amos (music and lyrics) and Samuel Adamson (book and lyrics) developed and reworked it into something of a teenage fairytale – it’s not quite child-friendly but it isn’t too far off. The show has long been in production and there’s a fascinating wealth of marvellously frank interviews and information about the creative process, its difficulties and delays, from both Adamson and Amos.
The heirs of neighbouring and warring kingdoms have both lost their mothers, having issues with their fathers and their grief has manifested itself in different ways: Princess Althea avoids anything serious by becoming weightless and casting off all worldly concerns; Prince Digby has taken the loss far harder and in his grief has solidified into something impossibly solemn. When the pair meet in the neutral ground between their lands – a magic forest-like Wilderness – teenage passion erupts but the depth of feeling unleashes new emotions of all colours, precipitating overwhelming consequences for all.
As for the show itself, the staging is hugely and suitably imaginative, delving into a more Grimm-like world of darker fairytale. The way in which Althea moves (“I don’t fly, I float”) is stupendously done with a bit of this and a bit of that. There’s a whole load of romance (You are…you are Althea), there’s a huge deal of wryly observed comedy – intelligent jabs at gender politics as well as more crowd-pleasing moments, there’s even some of my pet hate which proves endearingly wonderful. Visually the piece is boldly striking too – design is daring and movement is fluid.
Musically, there’s the real treat of hearing Amos write for men for the first time – Nick Hendrix’s Prince (“sweet of voice as he is buff of bicep”) making a swooning romantic hero and Clive Rowe’s super-powered vocal makes you really want him to release an album of Tori covers. Toriphiles will recognise bits and bobs (I spotted this but there’s probably more) and MD Martin Lowe places a Bösendorfer at the centre of the musical soundscape so there’s never mistaking the genesis of this score. Rosalie Craig has long been building up to what could possibly be a massively successful break-out role for her, her physical conditioning has to be seen to be believed, and supported excellently by Amy Booth-Steel, this brand of Tori-feminism beautifully tempers wildness of spirit with worldly responsibility.