It’s the Tobacco Factory Theatre; it’s a Christmas show. A Christmas show at the Tobacco Factory Theatre. Duh! Of course it was going to be excellent and I was prepared for that. What I didn’t expect, though, was to step out onto Raleigh Road thinking, for the second year running, “That was the best Christmas Show I’ve ever seen!”
Two and a half hours earlier …
Entering into the theatre space is so magical that we feel the need to take photos even of the sparkly corridor leading up to it, though we’re reminded politely that photography is not permitted in the auditorium proper. It’s easy to see why; it would be almost sinful to spoil the surprise of Designer Phil Eddolls’ beautiful set. “It looks like an ancient Kingdom!” remarks my 9 year old daughter, which is a natural first response seeing as we’re here for The Light Princess, a show set in exactly that, a Kingdom. Trees, roses and lights are everywhere. The stage also holds some secrets but I won’t tell. I will say, however, that I don’t think I remember a Bristol stage ever being so gorgeously inviting, no set has ever smacked me so in the face with ‘Christmas!’ (in a good way).
At her christening, the Princess is cursed by her jealous and “forgettable” Aunt Makemnoit, who bestows upon the poor girl no connection with gravity. Her lightness of body means that the Princess floats everywhere (except in water, where gravitational pull becomes normal again), while her lightness of mind gives her the freedom to perceive life as others might not, always seeing the best in everything. But she has never cried; she cannot feel. Her father, the orderly King, despairs. What sort of heir can his progeny possibly become, she who shuns rules, whose fun slant on the world leads others to misbehave and, like her, crave disorder?
We need a Prince don’t we? Oh and throw in a horse while you’re at it. And an apprentice Witch. And her employer. A Physicist. Some palace staff. A couple of people to bring the Princess back to Earth. A Queen. What, I hear you say, but aren’t there only six actors in the show? There are, yes, and they whizz between characters at impressive break-neck speed.
Well, now you mention it, there are actually seven real-life people on this stage because the ridiculously talented Musical Director Verity Standen is our Court Conductor. I’ve been a little in love with this woman ever since we saw her show Mmm Hmmm at Brewery Theatre last year; her musical passion seems to explode into everything she creates and her writing is little short of genius. In The Light Princess, she brings even more colour and personality to Eddolls’ already vibrant set, piercing our souls with beauty, conducting her acapella orchestra with mastery. I imagine that Standen had to work very closely with Sound Designer, David Ridley, because the effect they have created between them is mesmerising, the singing voices are crystal clear and the sound alone would make you want to come again. Wow.
And there’s much more in this unusual and downright silly fairy tale, written in the mid-Nineteenth Century by George MacDonald, adapted here by John Nicholson (who is also the Director) and Thomas Eccleshare. Take for instance, Jack Offord’s centre stage projections, which lend the show an altogether other angle, expanding the story and giving it a spatial dimension.
There’s an extraordinary amount of humour too, brilliantly acted by the whole cast (a couple of members of the audience get a huge laugh too, albeit unwittingly). Suzanne Ahmet as the carefree and smiling Princess is perfect in her role – I couldn’t imagine that happy face ever becoming angry or sour. Her chemical rapport with Richard Holt’s ever-so-serious Prince makes their love appear real, although my daughter’s only complaint about the show was the kissy bits.
An extra large fuss needs to be made of Amalia Vitale, who, regardless of which role she steps into, earns herself a raucous laugh from almost the whole audience. What a versatile actress she is and what excellent comic timing! Her pairing with Rew Lowe as Humdrum and Kopykeck is spot on; they spark off each other, creating a hilarious duo. Lowe’s speaking horse is worth a mention too – who knew there were so many horse jokes?
Do you know what? I’m going to stop now before I embarrass myself and spew out a whole load of superlatives. I absolutely loved, loved, loved this show and I urge to to get yourself tickets. If there are any left.
The Light Princess runs at Tobacco Factory Theatre until 10th January 2016