Sue Casson’s musical adaptation if Oscar Wilde’s short story, “The Happy Prince” is billed as a family show, but it’s difficult to see children appreciating it. It’s a dark tale, with a characteristic fin-de-siecle equation of love and death. A Prince’s statue hides the soul of the Prince, who is perpetually frozen in sorrow for his unhappy life. A swallow comes and redeems his soul by devoting himself to spreading sweetness and light and alleviating the sufferings of the poor. Exhausted by his efforts, and refusing to leave the Prince even though Summer has fled, he dies. The statue sheds tears, as the Prince unthaws, and this sanctifies the bird’s ascent to heaven. Written thus, it sounds absurdly sentimental, but Wilde gets away with it in the extravagance of his rich language and gesture.

Children are equally likely to be deterred by the essentially static nature of the production. There is a lot of exposition; characters talk about what they are going to do/have done, rather than showing it. There’s also a lot of padding introducing characters and playing with the audience by the magician/narrator. A freer, more dynamic treatment would work better.

Not that there aren’t good things lurking within the show. Sue Casson’s music is haunting, atmospheric and fits the scenario well, while her lyrics are serviceable. But she is not well served by the cast or director. This is a family show in the sense that all Casson’s family seem to be involved: her children Robert and Lily Blackmore play the swallow and Pandora, a girl who receives the generosity of the Prince, while her partner Tom Blackmore directs. Casson herself narrates and plays keyboards.

It is perhaps unkind to base judgements on a first performance after a speedy set-up, where the cast are clearly lacking in confidence and uncertain of moves. However, even when it’s settled down, I can’t see this production acquiring the pizzazz and sense of visual style the material needs; while it would take a considerable number of singing lessons to give Robert the technical skills to sustain the notes and punch out the lyrics of his quite complex songs. Andrew Bolton as a rather mature Prince is uncomfortable as well with the tessitura of the Prince, which severely taxes his upper register. Only Casson herself seems serene and at home in the music she wrote.

It all suggests to me that sometimes keeping things in the family is not such a good idea. An outside eye might bring a critical judgement to what works and what doesn’t, and liberate the rather earthbound treatment so that it can fly, which it undoubtedly could in the right hands.

Reviews by Peter Scott-Presland

Charing Cross Theatre

Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris

★★★
Jermyn Street Theatre

Return of the Soldier

★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Eye of a Needle

★★★★
Rosemary Branch Theatre

The Trial of the Jew Shylock

★★★
Southwark Playhouse

In The Heights

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

A real treat for children and adults alike, Sue Casson’s highly acclaimed musical adaptation of The Happy Prince captures all the poignancy and charm of Oscar Wilde’s short story. The tale of the gilded statue prince who, with the help of a migrating swallow, selflessly relieves the hardship of his townspeople is a classic fable, but also a very modern exploration of philanthropy, love, loss and the emptiness of wealth.

First performed at the Bridewell 20 years ago, this anniversary production, fresh from a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, takes you on an enchanting journey with the performers, giving you a peep behind the curtain at the magic of theatre and the storyteller’s art.

Crammed full of soaring melodies and witty lyrics, Casson’s The Happy Prince, as realised by director Tom Blackmore, will send you home singing the musical’s memorable songs, but this is a show that will also give you plenty of food for thought.

Most Popular See More

The Phantom of the Opera

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Wicked

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £15.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mary Poppins

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets