Interview with Marie McCarthy, Artistic Director at Omnibus Theatre

"The Little Prince is such a popular and widely read story with enduring appeal. The beauty of it is that it’s relatable on many different levels in ways that speak to both adults and children."

Interview with Marie McCarthy, Artistic Director at Omnibus Theatre

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

I'm the Artistic Director of Omnibus Theatre in Clapham, South London. We are a found space and opened six years ago staging our own productions and those of visiting companies from across the UK. 

Our programme of work is inspired by our literary heritage - a former library - and includes classics re-imagined, modern revivals and new writing. We’re multi-award winning and had critical success in both adult and family productions. The Little Prince will be our new in-house Winter family production, a contemporary re-imagining, which I will be directing. 

Describe the show “The Little Prince” in 3 words. 

Magical, Moving, Multi-layered

What is “The Little Prince” and why did Omnibus Theatre decide to perform it this winter?

This play is inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s childhood classic, which was voted best book of the 20th Century in France, sold more than 150 million copies worldwide and been translated into over 300 languages and dialects. It’s a timeless and thought-provoking tale which holds such universal appeal by adults and children. 

We felt it was a great story that hadn’t really been adapted for the stage in a contemporary way before. The story centres around a little prince who is on a quest to return to an asteroid that he calls home and he encounters many magical characters along the way. The ensuing adventure takes him across the galaxy, from the Sahara Desert to the Moon.

Why do you think the story has such an enduring and universal appeal?

I think it’s because it’s an intergenerational story. In my research, I spoke to some adults who said it was their treasured family book. It’s a beautiful parable with many iconic images and magical elements that have become imprinted in people’s memories. Wonderful quotes too, my favourite being, “the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart”. 

How have you wrestled with popular stereotypes within this production?

The characters are the Little Prince, Rose, a streetwise Fox, a Snake, the Lamp Lighter, the Counter, the King and the Pilot. I felt it was important as a contemporary re-imagining to be as relevant as we could to our audience.

The amount of characters in the piece requires multi-rolling of the cast and this was a good opportunity to be as fluid with the genders as possible. I liked the idea of casting the pilot as a female. She is based on a real aviator who is in her 90s now. Her name is Valérie André and she broke down barriers for women in France through being a war surgeon, a veteran of the French resistance and the first female in the military to rank as a general. She was a true heroine and a great role model. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from this? 

Our adaptation is about learning to be yourself and about friendship. Making friends with a whole new group of people remains a big deal for all of us, at any age. So, I hope audiences across the generations come away understanding that you are good enough as you are. I also want the audience to go on an emotional journey with the little prince, to meet the characters, get to know them, enter a world of imagination and most importantly, to laugh. 

Have any artists in particular inspired or influenced this work?

The first image to spark ideas for the aesthetic of the production was Changela's iconic blow-up dress from RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars. This was the first source of inspiration we had for the Rose. We hope that other characters that the Little Prince meets across his journey feel similarly contemporary and recognisable to our audiences. The urban fox shares our cities and towns – what would an urban fox have to say about life?

How did you face the challenge of targeting an audience of all ages during Christmastime?

The Little Prince is such a popular and widely read story with enduring appeal. The beauty of it is that it’s relatable on many different levels in ways that speak to both adults and children. In our adaptation, we’ll be using live music with a gallic twist, projections, and puppetry to tell this story. I hope this will take audiences of all ages on a flight of fantasy. Sally Pomme Clayton, our adaptor, one of the founder members of the renowned and critically-acclaimed Crick Crack Club, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of mythology and knows exactly how to bring a story to life. 

What is the creative process like when making theatre for small spaces?

A great challenge! I want to be able to create the same magic that you would see in a larger scale space that has more resources. I don’t want to be restricted by size but I also need to be practical. It forces us to really think out of the box and investigate every inch of what may or may not be possible. I like the challenge of recreating a world that is up close up that the audience feel immersed in.

What is your personal favourite moment in the production?

I love the idea of creating something big and unexpected in our theatre space. Without giving away any spoilers, the play opens with a scene in which a plane has broken down. The question I set myself is how did the plane get to that point. Recreating this has been quite a logistical challenge, but one in which I’m really excited about and I can’t wait for audiences to experience this fantastical adventure in our space in Clapham.

How can people find out more? 

The Little Prince opens on the 4-30 December, Omnibus Theatre, Clapham South London. 0207 498 4699. https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/the-little-prince/

Author

Sienna James

Sienna James Voice Team

Sienna is the Voice Assistant Editor and author of the Creative Education series. A de-caf coconut-milk latte gal who spends most of her time in Cambridge cafes, Sienna is currently on a gap year before studying History of Art at the University of Cambridge.

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