A mirage of Gallic adventures

THE PRINCE AND THE PILOT. Borderline Theatre Company. touring schools and theatres until June 23

Our hero muses: "Snails are delicious. Cooked, of course, with a little butter and garlic, and a glass of white wine." It's not a remark likely to win the hearts of a Theatre Workshop audience of Primary 45, but it is the sort of thing an author might say if he is pretending to write for children while all the time thinking more of the parents.

Maybe we should blame the New York publisher who asked Antoine de Saint-Exupery to follow up his very successful adult novels about aviation with something for the children's market. Agreeing, he came up with Le Petit Prince, which drew on his experiences in 1935 when he crashed in a desert on a solo flight from Paris to Saigon and walked for five days before being rescued by some travelling merchants.

Being alone in a desert is an age-old lifestyle for the Seeker after Truth, but in a mix of mirage, hallucination and fancy the author grants his pilot a friend, a diminutive prince from another planet, and lets them encounter a menagerie of creatures, human and animal, each with a philosophical point to prove.

Saint-Exupery writes the story in the form of dialogue, but there any resemblance between te book and a play ends. The rest is up to Anita Sullivan, who makes it into theatre for Borderline's tour of The Prince and the Pilot.

She has worked wonders. The little prince is a marionette spoken and operated by John Kielty; he is half of a double act with the pilot, played by Owen Gorman, whose very human need for water and rescue balances the otherwise fey storyline. Sullivan builds interest in the pilot by making him the narrator and hooks the audience in with a sequence of drawings he makes for the prince, all of which are included in the little booklet all members of the audience receive and to which the pilot periodically refers. They are welcome scraps of reality among the mirages.

With hardly any significant action, the audience's interest depends heavily on the menagerie the prince and the pilot encounter in their wanderings, and here the production scores time and again. Kitted out in Lindsey Sandham's costumes, the zestful Marjory Hogarth can queen it as the monarch who cannot command, and the fox who cannot be untamed, while Andrew Usher excels in a series of fantastics, not least a most sinisterly sisterly snake. These two keep up the interest in Leslie Finlay's fast-paced production.

Borderline, tel 01292 281010

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