Sunday 11 December 2016

The Happy Prince - Midsumma preview

Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince is a short story for children around friendship, love and compassion between a statue of The Happy Prince and a swallow flying to Egypt. However, the story is also a critique of a society insensible to the world around it. As part of Midsumma Festival, the proclaimed purveyors of high camp, Little Ones Theatre will be producing this tale but with their own queer interpretation. 

"It’s funny, because I only read this story as an adult, so I guess I’ve always seen it as a queer allegory. I never had the innocent response to it that those who read it as children had. It has always had a 'queer take' in my mind. That is why I was drawn to it," explains director Stephen Nicolazzo. "I always saw it as an opportunity to further explore my obsession with sexuality and gender, but in this case, what was unique was that it was a love story. I am a romantic as heart and I think what I have always been draw to about The Happy Prince is its unashamed romanticism. It is tragic and it is indicative of the experiences of queer people throughout history and it manages to do this in the space of ten pages."

"The other thing that drew me to it was the question of why and how it has endured for so long? What is it about fairy tales that touch us and serve as symbols for our times? Maybe that is wanky, but it's why it was important to tell the story now. It's also been done to death as children’s theatre with puppets and bloody songs, and I just thought, there is so much more to it, there is so many rich and complex images that it just needed to be brought to adults again."

When you think of Little One's Theatre productions, you cannot ignore their stunning and evocative set and costume designs by Eugyeene Teh and lighting designs by Katie Sfetkidis. Previous work such as Dracula (2015), House of Yes (2014) and Psycho Beach Party (2013) have shown the skill and versatility these designers have in creating highly unique experiences for audiences, and we can expect to see more of that creativity with The Happy Prince. "As a company, we always begin with the visual world of a piece and working in the realm of fairy tale has unlocked an aesthetic inspired by dreams and fantasy," Nicolazzo tells me. "We are looking at this one as a queer fantasia filled with references to James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus, Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising and Rabbit’s Moon and to some extent, Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. We want the world of the show to be seemingly innocent but also erotic, a space where fantasies can co-exist with reality, where sexuality oozes out of every image we create. There will be golden Joan of Arc style armour, roller skates, Teddy Girls, and reference to the “exotic” imagery of Tretchikoff, it is boundless, the stuff of queer dreams."

Reuniting with Little Ones Theatre are actors Janine Watson and Catherine Davies - having performed together in Dracula and Dangerous Liaisons - and Nicolazzo could not be more thrilled. "They are my soul mates, really. Both have exquisite physical ability and as we are working with very little text, this connection to the body is essential. Janine and Catherine know how to move and to create images and characters through the slightest of gestures, so they were ideal for a project like this," he says. "They are also both incredibly fearless when making a work and we have worked together on so many different forms that I thought it would be wonderful to create an entirely new show based on their skills and their approach to theatre making. I think too, that like me, they are interested in exploring sexuality and are courageous enough to present sexual desire and fantasy on stage. There is something about these two that is utterly androgynous too, they transcend their sex, which is so important when you are exploring gender in the way that we do. It is all about what lies between masculinity and femininity. We have fun together and that is what you want when you are making such an intimate and exposing show!"

While there are some nerves at taking what so many people cherish as a childhood classic and turning it into this 'perverse, demented and tragic' tale, Nicolazzo remain optimistic at the response and hopes to revisit some other of Wilde's tales in the future. "I think it is always dangerous to take on a beloved classic, as audiences tend to come in with pre-conceived notions of how the story should be told. What is freeing about it though is that you have a solid foundation to build a work and whilst we are searching for the subtext in the story to build our own perverse and demented take on Wilde’s original, all of those things are coming from Wilde’s world, from his voice, and his political perspective at the time of publication."

Little Ones Theatre: Eugyeene Teh, Stephen Nicolazzo and Kate Sfetkidis
"He had such a cynical and dark sense of humour that there are little clues embedded within the text that justify our will to present the work in an adult context. It is a fairy tale after all and one written in a period in which acts of homosexuality were illegal, so there are subtle political statements laced throughout the original story that give grounds for queer and contemporary investigation. We are simply turning up the volume on all of these clues to bring Wilde’s inherent eroticism to the foreground. We are even thinking of making a trilogy of Wilde’s fairy tales starting with the most famous and moving to The Nightingale and the Rose and The Selfish Giant. These stories are so ripe for queering and it would be wonderful to re-introduce audiences to these beautiful stories through a visual medium."

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday St, Carlton
Season: 18 - 29 January | Wed 6.30pm, Thu - Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4pm
Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc
Bookings: Midsumma Festival

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