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Sunday 4 December 2016

Review: The Happy Prince

Michael James Ford in The Happy Prince
Michael James Ford in The Happy Prince

The swallow's mates have abandoned him. Off they flew to Egypt for the winter, leaving behind one of their own to see out a relationship with a reed. That's right - we have a swallow in love with a plant, and she's about to break his poor little heart.

As the days grow colder, our lonesome swallow swoops into town and sets up shop at the feet of 'The Happy Prince' (a statue). But this is no ordinary monument. As a real person, the prince never experienced life outside of the castle walls.

In statue form, however, with sapphires for eyes and golden leaves for warmth, he can see the entire village for what it is; stricken with poverty, sickness and despair. Oh, and 'The Happy Prince' can talk. Well, the swallow can hear him, and that's good enough for us.

One of Oscar Wilde's most popular stories, The Happy Prince (originally published in 1888) is supposed to be a children's tale. In the masterful hands of performer Michael James Ford, however, it is a mesmerising treat for both little ones and their parents.

Spellbinding

Decked out in a tux, and assisted by composer and pianist Trevor Knight (wearing a fez), Ford presents a spellbinding lesson in storytelling, bringing to life the beautiful, simplistic tale of a companionable bird and his new best mate.

Basically, the prince wants to help everyone out, so he asks the swallow to pluck the ruby from his sword and the sapphires from his eye sockets and to give them to the less fortunate.

With the help of his new messenger, he is literally spreading the wealth so as to put a smile on the faces of his fellow citizens.

A delightful bedtime yarn, The Happy Prince is a story you could easily tell in five minutes - Ford stretches it to 35, playing the role of narrator, townsfolk, statue and bird.

Witty and charming, we won't spoil the ending, but it's a testament to Ford's enchanting prowess as both an actor and a wide-eyed raconteur that he manages to elicit such a powerful emotional response from his audience.

A humble presentation in which the bare minimum of props are deployed (hand-drawn backdrop; podium for the statue; the aforementioned reed), this is a play that relies on both imagination and a flair for storytelling.

Ford makes it look easy, and Knight's magical score complements what is, truly, a bittersweet tale of love and redemption.

The swallow learns a lot in those 35 minutes - so, too, does the audience. Wonderful material, fantastic performance. Sometimes, all it takes is two blokes dressed as magicians to create a captivating theatrical experiences.

Rating ****

Ends August 15

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