The African Sahara, a wrecked plane, a stranded pilot and a vastness of sand. Vagabond Productions’ play Saint-Exupéry, A Pilot’s Story begins full of promise of adventure and drama. Whilst the title suggests that this play will be an exploration into the life of Saint-Exupéry, what actually follows is an adaptation of his most famous work, The Little Prince, peppered with a few facts and anecdotes. Realistically, this is probably what the majority of the audience would be looking for and was, for the most part, delivered in a touching and funny way.
Does it match up to the book? Well, no and really, how could it possibly?
We listen as Saint-Exupéry in his pilot’s jumpsuit raids his childhood chest of treasures, pulling out different masks and assuming figures from his past that eventually winded up as characters in The Little Prince. Then the Prince himself appears to engage with these strange creatures from the land of adults.
The play, like the book, touches on some big themes: the nature of love, the gulf of understanding between adults and children and the ridiculousness of adhering to social codes for propriety’s sake. The juxtaposition of the Little Prince’s inquisitive nature and inborn wisdom with Saint-Exupéry’s ‘more important things to be concerned with’ nature is engaging. However, the formula of delivering an anecdote about a character and then seeing the Little Prince meet this person becomes repetitive within half an hour.
A further unfortunate point is that the character of Saint-Exupéry never quite manages to justify his presence in the play. He is the author of a beloved book but, as an individual, he is not well-known and the grumbling, grouchy delivery of his life’s story does nothing to alter this. Even the actor sounded bored. It is always tricky to judge how much prior knowledge one’s audience has, but the solution is definitely not to constantly repeat what has already been said to the point that such repetition overtakes the narrative duties themselves.
Does it match up to the book? Well, no and really, how could it possibly? Still, more often than not the charm of the book translates well to the stage and the use of silhouette and props is at times quite beautiful. Besides that, the scene between the Little Prince and a fluffy desert fox is nothing short of an absolute gem. There are worse ways to spend your afternoon than re-exploring a childhood favourite.