The Happy Prince opens beautifully. From blackout, it’s a blue light up first that gently gives way to orange. Dawn. Brighter still and we see a woman standing with her back to the audience, slowly moving. She’s wearing gold, a sword held out. The shape of the set – a long narrow box – holds this opening scene like a brooding Christmas diorama at Myer. And, while you do hear the sound of a crowd, here it’s from the streets below.
The statue is one looking down on a city barely able to bring themselves to look back up. She’s the statue of the Happy Prince, and she’s been crying. Her solitude is ended by the arrival of the Swallow. An unassuming little bird, the two get close when they shouldn’t. Not because one is an effigy and one is a bird. Rather, that the Swallow really needs to start flying south to warmer climates. Yet, she can’t seem to leave the Prince, even as the weather gets colder and colder.
Little Ones Theatre have taken the Oscar Wilde’s short story, The Happy Prince, and done that deft thing of honouring the source material while making it utterly their own to the point where you’d be forgiven for thinking it was always theirs.
Janine Watson was stunning as the Happy Prince. One of the strongest qualities of her performance was its precision: The track of copper tears down her face, the clarity in her voice, the ability to embody the heft and other physical characteristics of a statue, yet imbue every moment with Catherine Davies – playing the Swallow – with warmth and longing.
Catherine too, was very lean in her performance; there was little wasted. Moving around on roller skates was a great way to suggest the light physicality of a bird, without any loss of strength. That said, Catherine’s best balancing act would have to be her storytelling. There’s something more interesting going on than just the Prince seducing the Swallow to convince her to stay, and Catherine (Janine, too) navigated their eventual love story very well.
This review will see print before the show concludes, so I won’t discuss the end in detail, however, it differs from the original story. While the play’s final lament is devastating, there’s also hope in how it reaffirms that in the face of cynicism and a world where so many people struggle to have compassion or empathy for others that we really have no choice but to love fiercely, even if our hearts get broken.
The Happy Prince
La Mama Theatre, Carlton
Performance: Wednesday 18 January 2017
Season continues to 29 January 2017
Information and Bookings: www.lamama.com.au
Image: Catherine Davies and Janine Watson feature in The Happy Prince – photo by Pia Johnson
Review: David Collins