Caro Meets Children's Show Interview Theatre Interview

Martin Oelbermann: The Little Prince

By | Published on Wednesday 13 December 2017

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince’ is probably one of the most famous, most translated books in history, and I confess to wondering, when I heard about this show, to what extent a stage adaptation can do it justice.
Well, having heard more, I think that the star of this one man play – actor Martin Oelbermann – and his creative colleagues might just be a team who will do it rather well. I spoke to Martin (who, JK-fans, recently appeared in ‘Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them’), ahead of the upcoming run.

CM: Firstly, for anyone that isn’t familiar with the source material, the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, what story does it tell?
MO: ‘The Little Prince’ tells the story of a pilot who crashes his plane in the Sahara desert. There, he meets the little prince who comes from a remote little planet where he fell in love with a rose. When they started to argue, he ran away. Now, he is travelling the universe to try and understand love and life and to find friends. Together, the pilot and the little prince look for an escape from the desert. An essential part of the book are the author’s beautiful illustrations.

CM: What themes does the story explore?
MO: There are many, because the book is very carefully layered. I think the main ones are friendship, faith and trust. Childhood is also an important theme, how to nurture and support children without just forcing them to conform to adult expectations. Also, the story makes some very important points on how to encourage a child’s creativity – and how easily it can be damaged through ignorance or carelessness. Then there are also some very pertinent and funny observations about the absurdities of the adult world.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your staging of it? What kind of theatrical experience can audiences expect?
MO: They can expect a theatrical experience that has been planned with a lot of love and attention to detail to stay true to the essence of the book; which is very much about imagination and gaining joy from simple things. In the book, the pilot looks back at his life, remembers his childhood and remembers his encounter with the little prince. So I am approaching this as story-telling; one actor immersing himself in all the parts. Alison Neighbour has turned the theatre into a very beautiful space which the pilot inhabits and Adam Lansberry is bringing the author’s original drawings to life in his video design. It will be minimalist, but very rich, with some surprises. Hopefully, it will come across as a theatrical version of a pop-up picture book.

CM: Who will enjoy this…? Is it a show that adults will relate to as much as children?
MO: The book is loved by children and adults equally. Often, people discover it as a child and then the book accompanies them throughout their entire life, as is the case with me. What makes the story so powerful is that it is fun, magical and adventurous and at the same time has more reflective passages with some profound insights which feel universal. In our production, we aim to keep this balance so that it should resonate and be a lot of fun for both children and adults; after all, adults were once children too….

CM: Is it a book that you read yourself as a child? What made you want to create this show?
MO: I did read it as a child! Well, I think it was a Christmas present when I was about six or seven and it was initially read to me. I was captivated by the boa constrictor image.

I have been thinking of making a production for a long time and I have explored several approaches. This one has been crystallising over a period of two years. I think the book is difficult to adapt to the stage; if you make it too naturalistic, it falls apart. This version really excites me, and I hope to reach people with it; to entertain them on different levels and bring this wonderful story to life.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team that have worked on it with you?
MO: Alison Neighbour is the scenographer and costume designer. She studied design at RADA and I have worked with her before, on a devised production about fear, which was really interesting. I thought her work is brilliant. She has a very comprehensive approach and manages to give even a theatre a site-specific feel. She creates a real, lived-in space, rather than just another pretty set. I just love her taste and aesthetics, she is very intelligent with a modern outlook.

Adam Lansberry, who also trained at RADA, is a very passionate and dedicated young video designer who has a very deep understanding of how to use digital, visual technology in the theatre. Using video in a play appears to be really simple, but to make it work and add to what happens on stage without suffocating it, is enormously difficult. After all, you are trying to fuse a two dimensional art with a three dimensional one, live action with something recorded. Adam has a great understanding and feel for this. And, like Alison, he is very bright and has an astounding taste and gift for composing images.

CM: You’re from Germany originally, and have, I think, worked in the theatre both there and here. What differences and similarities are there? What made you want to work in the UK?
MO: Growing up in Germany, it was mainly British and Irish music, films, drama and literature I loved and which saw me into adulthood. I always wanted to know what it is about these two islands that makes them such an exceptional breeding ground for creativity. I have also always loved the sound and the flexibility of the English language, the fact that it can express so many emotions and has such an enormous variety.

German theatre is mainly ideas based. Broadly speaking, its purpose in society is political. British theatre, I think, is more about stories and characters. It wants to move us and touch us as individuals. German theatre speaks to the brain, British to the heart. Ideally, you would connect the two.

CM: You recently completed a role on a high profile film. What was that like, and would you like to do it again?
MO: That was a really wonderful experience. I have always loved movies and worked for a few years as ‘sparks’ and ‘best boy’ in Germany, after finishing school. On the film you refer to, it was extraordinary to be surrounded by a large group of highly experienced, highly skilled and highly talented people, from the actors to all the technicians, camera, sound, costume, make-up; the director and the writer of course. Everyone was doing exceptional work. That was incredible to watch and to be a very small part of. Of course I would love do it again.

CM: What plans do you have for the future? And what is coming up for you after ‘The Little Prince’?
MO: I am auditioning and have just completed shooting a few days on another project. Also, I really would love to tour this production of ‘The Little Prince’. I have been speaking to venues in Northern Ireland, where I lived for three years while doing my BA, and am looking at dates in 2019. Touring there, would be an absolute dream! I love Northern Ireland very much. And then, possibly tour in other parts of the U.K. It would also be really interesting to do a German and a French version.

‘The Little Prince’ is on at The Playground Theatre from 15 Dec-7 Jan. See venue website here for more information and to book.

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