When asked to look at a drawing, proudly displayed by grown man Antoine in The Little Prince, most viewers trace it’s large semi-circular outline to a mundane conclusion: it must be a hat. The true subject – an elephant swallowed by a boa constrictor – is far more interesting, and requires a young imagination to detect.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella suggests that there are ingenious ways of seeing the world only available to children. When Antoine (Seosamh Duffy) encounters the Little Prince (Alex Hughes) in Oisín Robbins’s faithful adaptation for young audiences, his drawing receives an instantaneous and clear interpretation of a snake feasting on a mammal. Talk about art criticism.
For Morgan Creative’s production, director Luke Morgan seizes the opportunity to charmingly scathe the joylessness of adulthood. Duffy’s excited Antoine explains he was urged to quit art as a child and do something more practical, like becoming a pilot. When he crash lands in an African desert, he finds Hughes’s redoubtable Little Prince, who joins him in mocking caricatures of mature people talking politics, house prices and weight loss. “You sound like a grown-up!” yells the boy at one point, in the play’s most offended remark.
The more unrestrained aspects of Saint-Exupéry’s plotting come to the fore as the Little Prince shares the story of his life. We find ourselves on a planet where baobabs are uprooted and volcanoes are swept. In lieu of the novella’s vibrant watercolours, Antoni Motyaka’s projections aid the storytelling, evoking a snooty rose trying to manipulate the Little Prince, and a thrilling rocket-ship providing his escape to other worlds.
From there, Saint-Exupéry’s story ambitiously tries to weave the complexities of adulthood. The Little Prince meets a king with an admirable but flawed model of leadership. A drunkard is miserable and full of shame. A vain man is ridiculously superficial. It’s a lot to take in one sitting.
Instead of labouring these scenes, Morgan leans on the production’s splendid invention, particularly the humorous silhouettes of Paul Dunning’s lighting. Jake Morgan’s lively music supplies the pace of adventure drama. It’s a handsome work with broad imagination.
An open-minded and explorative staging befits The Little Prince. “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” says a serene fox at one point. It’s nice to see a production, compelled to seek out playful representations, taking that claim as instruction.
The Little Prince is at Galway Theatre Festival until May 7th. For more details, click here.