A Sorta Fairytale: Samuel Adamson talks about The Light Princess

Little Blue World Fall 2008 n°31

Tuesday 14 June 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

The announcement in summer 2007 that Tori was collaborating with playwright Samuel Adamson on a new musical based on George MacDonald’s 1864 fairy-tale "The Light Princess" for the British National Theatre sent Toriphiles worldwide into show-stopping, standing ovation-generating paroxysms of excitement. The news came somewhat out of left-field, although, given the increasingly narrative-driven and character-based nature of Tori’s recent work, it should perhaps not have been so much of a suprise to discover that she was stretching her creative muscles yet further with a move into musical theatre.

The involvement of Samuel Adamson as Tori’s collaborator on this venture was also extremey exciting news. Adamson, whose work has been presented on some of the most prestigious stages in London, as well as in New York, is well known to British theatre-goers for his original plays such as Clocks and Whistles (1996) and Southwark Fair (2006), his acclaimed adaptations of works by Tchekhov, Ibsen and Schnitzler, and his 2007 stage version of Pedro Almodóvar’s 1999 film All About My Mother. His new play, Mrs. Affleck, premieres at the National Theatre in January 2009. While The Light Princess musical is still in an early stage of development, and not scheduled to open to the British National Theatre until the end of 2009 at the very earliest, Sam generously agreed to give Little Blue World an exclusive advance insight into his take on the musical, the joys and challenges of adaptation, the Amos/Adamson collaborative process, and much more besides. Here’s our chat.

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I grew up in the South Australian countryside, miles from anything theatrical. Who knows how and why particular interests develop- I try not to analyze it too much. Perhaps I’d get suicidal. But I was one of those theater anoraks that put plays on for his parents in the living-room. Actually, at that stage it was stage lighting I was obsessed with. I used to create superbly hopeless lighting designs with Anglepoise lamps. I still look at theatre lighting designers with a bit of envy... theirs is a great job. Getting my first play on was a highlight. And working at the National Theatre. Whichever project you’re currently working on is the most important to you, though.

How did you become involved in The Light Princess project?

Tori took the project, that is the MacDonald story, to the National Theatre. She was looking for a book writer. At that stage, they’d just produced a play of mine called Southwark Fair. She came to see it and liked it and then we met with her manager John Witherspoon. We got on, and that was the start of it.

What was your initial reaction to George MacDonald’s story?

I liked its adult wit and subversiveness. The narrator has a very wry attitude to his subject-and he sends up the fairytale genre. And he’s lightly satirical about the light princess herself. She can be quite an irritating woman. But that’s not her fault. I like this about her.

The fairy tale deals with some fairly adult themes and was quite controversial upon its original publication. Why do you think this was, and what, for you, are some of the major themes of the piece?

It’s quite honest about sex. It’s a very rich tale, really, with a beautiful central metaphor: the light princess is not just “light” because she has no gravity, she’s also light-minded and light-hearted. Only when she suffers real heartbreak, real human loss, only when she learns what love is, can her “lightness” be “cured.” Until then, she is flighty, indulgent, maddening, selfish, self-protective-all the thing we all are, sometimes. It’s a sentimental educatiion of an Everywoman.