Saturday 16 November 2013

The Light Princess at the National, or, Unfortunately Sondheim (amongst others) Got There First

I wanted to love this show. I really did. It involves some of my favourite performers and production staff. I am a firm advocate for the production of musicals at the National. There are admirable things about this musical, but in the end it is overshadowed by a variety of predecessors, and hobbled by the inadequacies of the writers.

This show is a positive reminder that the National is a great place for musicals. I can understand why Hytner has tended to shy away from them. It is undeniable that Trevor Nunn did far too many. But I do think Hytner has gone too far the other way. Musicals that make it to the West End are distinctly limited. Other subsidised theatres, and perhaps most notably off-West End powerhouses like the Union and the Southwark Playhouse, have been doing sterling work, but there remain plenty of musicals which deserve revival on a bigger stage than those places can offer. I hope Rufus Norris will have a serious look at this question when he replaces Hytner next year.

In terms of this specific musical, there is one huge plus: the involvement of the magnificent Rosalie Craig. I've been a fan, as I may have mentioned before, ever since her hilarious performance in The Translucent Frogs of Quuup. Here she is the one performer who really manages to transcend the show's weaknesses, imparting genuine conviction to her character. That conviction is also vital to carrying off the realisation of the idea of a floating princess. Credit is equally due here to Paul Rubin (the aerial effects designer) and, I assume, the four performers credited in the programme as acrobats (Owain Gwynn, Tommy Luther, Emma Norin, Nuno Silva). The effect is as stunning as the horses in War Horse or the daemons in His Dark Materials.