Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a French pilot, poet and writer, who is best known as the author of children’s classic
A good concept poorly executed.
This two-person show is loosely structured around an amicable, even flirtatious, conversation between Saint-Exupéry and a female personification of Death, which takes place as the author embarks on a flight from which he will never return. As the play goes on we drift into other scenes from Saint-Exupéry’s past: his childhood fascination with planes, his near fatal crash in the Sahara, his relationship with his wife, Consuelo. Throughout these diverse recollections, the actor playing Death steps in to portray a host of other characters from Saint-Exupéry’s past. The central premise is decent - Saint-Exupéry clearly lived a fascinating life and the concept of him revisiting these events in the company of Death is not without creative merit. The decision to have Death and Saint-Exupéry playing a slow game of chess as the story unfolds also adds a nice touch of symbolism.
Despite its theatrical potential, however, the show was confusingly structured and badly performed. Faced with the admittedly difficult task of bringing this sluggish and wordy play to life, both actors struggle to provide compelling performances. While some blame must lie with the cumbersome script, the actors frequently resort to strained over-acting that stretches believability and quickly proves tiresome to watch. The set too feels cluttered and distracting - it’s covered in tents, bamboo planes, costumes and an assortment of props, that make the already small stage feel cramped.
Moreover, it’s not really made clear why we’re supposed to care about Saint-Exupéry, who’s never presented as terribly likeable. In one uncomfortable scene Saint-Exupéry, having just met Consuelo, forces her to kiss him and threatens to crash the plane when she refuses. The decision to present this moment of bullying exploitation as comical simply offends the already disinterested audience.
The Nine Lives of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is a good concept poorly executed. While the production might be enjoyable for those with a prior interest in the eponymous novelist, the lacklustre acting and awkward script mean that this show has very limit entertainment value.