We haven’t seen anything from Melbourne’s Little Ones Theatre since it brought its powerful Merciless Gods to Griffin in 2017.
The Happy Prince, also directed by Stephen Nicolazzo, is an outwardly less ambitious work of theatre, but it is every bit as moving.
Three and a half thousand of the most perfectly arranged words in Victorian literature, Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince tells the story of impossible love and sacrifice against a panorama of a city whose burnished surface belies poverty and misery.
From his lofty position high above it all, the gilded statue of the Prince – a tribute to a young man sheltered from sorrow in his own life – sees it all through eyes of sapphire.
But he is locked to his pedestal. He cannot move – that is, until he recruits a passing swallow to deliver a ruby from the hilt of his sword to a poor seamstress with a sick child.
Together, as the winter chill sets in, the prince and the swallow set about changing lives, one jewel at a time. They also fall in love.
Nicolazzo zooms in exclusively on the lovers, played here by Janine Watson (goddess-like in golden gown and bearing a long sword) and Catherine Davies, who flits around on roller-skates, chain-smokes, and looks like she’s playing hooky from Rydell High.
Theirs is a mutual entrancement, between an old soul and a young one, a relationship fuelled by good deeds and rewarded with destruction and a broken heart thrown on the dust heap.
Arguably, something of the political sting of Wilde’s story is lost in Niccolazo’s queer and tightly focused reading.
I didn’t miss it, though. This intricately made, gracefully performed production, which fairly throbs with emotion, holds you spellbound, then sends you home not with the words of God in your head (as Wilde did) but with the last six verses of his Panthea.
The Happy Prince is an achingly lovely hour of theatre.