Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 25 – Jul 6, 2019
Director: Stephen Nicolazzo
Cast: Catherine Davies, Janine Watson
Images by Robert Catto
It is the perfect symbiotic relationship, when the swallow meets the statue and they see deep into each other, not through some mutually obsessive infatuation, but by a shared fervour for bringing peace unto others. In this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short story The Happy Prince, we observe selflessness as the ultimate joy and fulfilment. Independently, each entity can do little, but together, they are able to help people in need, and it is only in bringing happiness to strangers, that they themselves are at their most exultant.
Directed by Stephen Nicolazzo, the show is correspondingly generous. Its messages are earnest, fiercely so, and it stringently disallows any room for our customary cynicism. A profound sense of melancholia works almost as its guiding light, taking us down a journey of meditative reflection, to facilitate an examination of the values we use to navigate this thing called life. The swallow and the statue exist in a concurrent state of joy and pain, and we feel every nuanced articulation of emotion depicted by this extraordinary staging. Poetic, with a sublime beauty that transcends all manner of convention, The Happy Prince speaks its truth with remarkable clarity, to deliver an hour of theatre that is as moving an experience as any fairy tale could wish to be.
Music by Daniel Nixon holds us tight, keeping us firmly in the grasp of a show determined to connect with the best of our humanity. Nixon’s work is tender, tremendously stirring, and we respond only with an attitude of pure benevolence. Katie Sftekidis’ lights have a similar effect, drawing us into a sentimental dreamscape, gently pushing away inhibitions so that our capacities know to welcome all the warmth, and wistfulness, of Wilde’s story.
Catherine Davies and Janine Watson are our players, both enchanting and majestically impassioned, full of soul in their performance of a piece that all our broken hearts need to encounter. Watson is the statue, the eponymous Happy Prince who shows us that glory means nothing when left enshrined and static. The actor communicates powerfully, the best of human nature, with a stylistic restraint that barely contains the urgency of what she wishes to convey. Davies takes flight as the swallow, giving us comedy and pathos in equal potent measure, precise at every point in the illustration of her character’s vacillating transformation, from apathetic to spirited. The robust couple is inventive, with an extraordinary charisma that demands our attention. Their sensuality adds a dimension of eroticism to the work, that operates to enhance the theme of compassion, as the play’s central concern.
It is easy to think of sacrifice in terms of loss. In The Happy Prince however, we are reminded that the purpose of sacrifice is to attain something greater, that more often than not, paying a price will lead us to a reward. We watch the statue and her swallow go through considerable suffering, but we are left without doubt as to the immense satisfaction they experience as a result of their pain. Pleasure does not always involve the sting of its cost, but when one is compelled to give until it hurts, what returns is usually from the realms of the divine.