Pros: Skilful adaptation and winning performances
Cons: A few less successful moments
Although less celebrated than his plays, Oscar Wilde’s prose work is every bit as accomplished and distinctive. His fairy tales in particular are a unique take on the genre – they’re wise and unsentimental, which somehow makes their impact all the more emotional, and Wilde delights in using animals and flowers as a witty chorus to comment on the foibles of the human world.
Young company Orange Moon do a great job of capturing the spirit of Wilde’s writing, and they sensibly keep the original text largely intact – after all, why wouldn’t you want to use such brilliant lines? What this production brings to the party are music and stylised physical performance, which fit the bill perfectly. A focused and committed cast of five tackle numerous parts with skill and clarity, and the physical aspects of the show are finely judged to complement rather than distract from the storytelling. The show comprises two tales, and if there’s a thematic link between the two, it’s probably that of romantic love cracking its skull against the brick wall of human nature.
In The Birthday of the Infanta, a spoilt Spanish Princess (Hannah Webster) demands entertainment on her special day. Presented with a dancing freak (Felix Grainger as The Little Forrest Boy) she laughs at him callously, but he mistakes her derision for affection, which propels him on an ill-fated journey of self-discovery.
In the second story, The Nightingale and the Rose, a bookish student (Victor Mellors) is desperate to secure a dance with the object of his desire (Claudia Carroll) but lacks the red rose she insists he woo her with. When the nightingale (Charlotte Sparey) undertakes to find one for him, not only does she pay a terrible price for her idealism, but her sacrifice is ultimately ineffectual. Tragic stuff, but Wilde’s tales bear little relation to the sanitised happy endings of the “classics” most of us grew up with.
This admirably tight production is neatly designed for the size of the Barons Court Theatre’s performance area, filling the space with some thrilling moments of physical theatre. Standout moments include the Nightingale flying, which is simple but gorgeous – an almost breath-taking experience. Another is when The Little Forrest Boy confronts his “monstrous” reflection, and the other cast members trap him in a cage of multiple mirrors. Grainger is a very handsome young actor, but manages to sell his character’s dawning self-revulsion with chilling conviction.
The show does have a few mis-steps. The lighting design on Infanta is on the busy side to say the least, and the song of the nightingale didn’t work for me, which was disappointing given how crucial it is to the story.
I spotted three school-age kids in the audience on press night. It would be great if this production could have a longer life and be seen by more children, as it’s an imaginative and accessible 50 minutes which would serve as an excellent introduction to Wilde’s work and indeed to theatre itself.
Written by: Oscar Wilde, adapted/devised by the company
Director: Claudia Carroll
Producer: Orange Moon Theatre
Playing until: 19th August (at different venues)
Booking link: Camden Fringe 1st – 3rd August https://cam.tickets.red61.com/performances.php?eventId=3113:2490 … Landor Space 15th – 19th August https://www.landorspace.com/nightingale