Theatre Review – Puzzle Piece Theatre/The Little Prince: Reimagined, translated and adapted by Richard Lam

Photo by Barry McCluskey

One of the delights of The Little Prince: Reimagined is that it is a low-tech production. It is quite amazing what you can create out of paper airplanes, and the clever use of flashlights. This enjoyable children’s theatre features a paper puppet show of immense imagination.

Richard Lam translated and adapted the script from the beloved 1943 novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He also composed the light-hearted music, and appears on stage as the pilot and various other characters. Kira Hall, with her adorable mop of golden curls, portrays the childlike Prince. She is also listed as puppet consultant and builder. These two not only have to say their lines while moving meaningfully around the small stage, they also have to create the people, animals and props necessary to the story, right before our eyes.

By way of explanation.  At the beginning of the show, the audience makes paper airplanes under Lam’s direction, and once they take flight, the stage becomes littered with them. Along with premade paper shapes stashed cunningly about the space, these airplanes function as the basic prop shop for Lam and Hall to create the paper puppets. For example, two of the airplanes placed side by side lengthwise, make for a very convincing fox’s head. Similarly, point the airplane horizontally, add a long curvy paper body, and you have your serpent.

Photo by Barry McCluskey

It’s hard to tell from the credits who first came up with the concept of creating paper puppets, but we have to credit clever Hall as the builder. Clearly director/sound designer Jon Lachlan Stewart was intimately involved, and he has crafted a well-orchestrated stage picture that has ease of flow as the story evolves. His main focus has been on evoking childlike wonder in the audience, and it’s quite fascinating to watch the actors transform seeming stage debris into characters like the King or the Rose, whom Lam then voices.

Anahita Dehbonehie’s gorgeous set of white scrims and circular floor carry on the paper theme. Her eye-catching centrepiece is the pilot’s crashed giant paper airplane. The absence of colour in the set has allowed designer Wes Babcock to go wild with a rainbow of light. In fact, The Little Prince: Reimagined has a surprisingly complicated lighting scenario that includes a clever play of shadows and silhouettes. Flashlights, manipulated by the cast, are also a big part of the show as a way of denoting character emphasis, or creating a special effect.

Clearly, Lam’s intent was always to create children’s theatre, so the dialogue is colloquial and simple. We get a clear narrative of the Little Prince’s travels from his own Asteroid B612, to various other planets, and finally his visit to earth. There is no real reference to Saint-Exupéry’s philosophical intents. The morals are in plain sight. I’m not sure what the playwright meant by “Reimagined”, as Lam follows the story quite faithfully. Some characters like the switchman and the merchant have been left out, but the major players are all there. Two of the Little Prince’s planetary visits have been updated to the present. The shamefaced drunkard has been transformed into a social media influencer who doesn’t follow any of his “likes” because he has to keep up his ratio. The fact-obsessed geographer is now a computer that also only stores data and never interprets it.

The Little Prince: Reimagined is the debut production of the new company Puzzle Piece. This maiden effort is a clever, creative and charming piece of children’s theatre.

Photo by Barry McCluskey

Puzzle Piece Theatre, The Little Prince: Reimagined, translated and adapted by Richard Lam, directed by Jon Lachlan Stewart, Scotiabank Studio, Streetcar Crowsnest, Mar. 22 to Apr. 13, 2019.