The Happy Prince

Venue: Griffin Theatre, Darlinghurst
Written By: Oscar Wilde
Directed By: Stephen Nicolazzo

In this evocative and playful queer reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s fairytale, the opposition between the coldness of the world and the warmth of emerging love is delicately maintained. While Wilde’s uppermost theme of free-flowing benevolence is sensitively foregrounded, at the same time director Stephen Nicolazzo makes this Little Ones Theatre production a haunting tale of a love long denied and crushed.

Photo: Robert Catto

The felt but visionary world of fairytale is quickly established as we wait for a figure to merge from a twilit stage. The Prince – a magical performance by Janine Watson, beautifully merging statuesque and human qualities – isolated on her pedestal high above the town, is made wretched by the suffering she sees. While outwardly she appears powerful with her jeweled sword and golden exterior, in reality she is powerless.

The townspeople, their various voices heard on soundtrack, praise the Happy Prince for self-gratifying reasons, but feel no affection for the statue. When the feckless roller-skating, cigarette-smoking Swallow, performed with a joyous but self-consuming youthful insouciance by Catherine Davies, swoops onto the stage she sees the golden statue as a resting place appropriate to her self-importance.

The Swallow has separated from her migrating flock, who have disapproved of her affair with a Reed, but she believes she can still catch up with them. The sorrowful but sometimes acerbic statue, however, has different desires and there begins what is both a wooing of the Swallow and also her conversion to merciful benevolence.

The achievement of both – the mesmerising waltz between the Prince, leading lovingly but firmly, and the Swallow, hesitant but growing in trust, and the Swallow, taking the gold leaf from the Prince’s body and, rather than acting on the Prince’s behest, showering it with heart-felt generosity to those in need – are unforgettable moments.

Love may be the key to transformation but Wilde’s tale ends tragically. However, this version, originally developed and presented by La Mama (Melbourne), comes to a resonant and affirming conclusion by quoting in voiceover from a younger Wilde’s poem, “Panthea”: “And all the live World’s throbbing heart shall be/ One with our heart, the stealthy creeping years/ Have lost their terrors now, we shall not die,/ The Universe shall be our Immortality!”

The creative crew of Eugennne Yen (set and costume), lighting (Katie Sfekidis), composition and sound (Daniel Nixon) transform the tiny stage of the Griffin into the boundless space of the fairytale, characterised by both its luminosity and its darkness. Denizens of this strange realm, Davies and Watson excel, infusing a Victorian and sometimes lachrymose narrative with passion and a truly modern grace.

June 28 – July 7, 2019.

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