‘All grown ups were once children but only a few of them remember it” reflected the aristocratic French author of ‘The Little Prince’, Antoine de Saint-Exupèry – true enough, but not of this magical writer.  His reconstruction of the elusive feelings of childhood is the key to the touching delight of The Little Prince. Combine the potency of this masterpiece with some of the world’s best contemporary dancers staged by ground- breaking choreographers and it’s hardly a surprise this show was a winner from the first lines.

Saint Exupèry’s international best-seller - the fourth most translated book ever – hits the mark in the same way as English writers Arthur Ransome and Lewis Carroll did –remain the children they were. Like Peter Pan’s author, they never grow up.  Saint-Eupèry’s fantastical tale magically conjures the fast -fading feeling so elusive to the rest of us- and the result is as much a message for adults as a joy for children. The Junction was heaving with them (and the parents they brought along) for this uber -polished performance – tickets sold out early.

‘Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them’ declared the author  and celebrated artistic director Luca Silvestrini amplified  the mystery of young imagination through music and dance. The result is a top class world -worthy winner. 

It opens with a welcome from Karl Fagerlunde Brekker the tall striking Dane whose elegant stage presence and athletic dancing sets the poise and simplicity of the entire story. He plays a stranded air pilot recently crashed in the desert. The Little Prince who has left behind his home on Asteroid B-612 and journeyed across space finds him exhausted and despairing. He tells the pilot about his home and his adventures. Like the improbable characters of Alice in Wonderland, the people he meets on his sojourn are odd and often irrational. Faith Prendergast dances the role of The Little Prince with a tender knowledge of a child’s movements; her interpretation truly makes the production. She clearly loves the depth of imagination demanded for the role and the audience, mostly children, never lost faith in her as a spontaneous little boy.

Peculiar people along the way to earth include an utterly deluded King (almost a second cousin to Alice’s adversary the Queen of Hearts) and a  multi-voiced Garden of Roses with a huffy tendency to take offence. Donna Lennard makes these whacky individuals entirely natural and her heavenly singing voice brings them to puzzling life. She also plays the threatening snake that tries to make the Little Prince give up hope and she  even manages to inject some wry humour into a very spoilt and theatrical  animated rose whose demands become too much even for the eager Little Prince . On the planet there is also a Fox, a fascinating part mastered with great complexity by Andrew Gardner who is also a lithe and intriguing lamplighter and a puzzlingly pedantic geographer – a breed that St. Exupèry clearly dislikes.

Children adored this production. There was hardly a murmur in the two full hours of mysterious action.  No interval. Something about the cast’s understanding of childhood conveyed itself through the contemporary music of Frank Moon. Credit for this heroic achievement – there is no faking ta child audience once they lose interest – must surely go to video animator Daniel Denton and lighting designer Jackie Shemesh. Between them they maneuvered a 70-year-old story straight into the 21st century digital age whilst conserving the aching nostalgia of the entire tale.

The Little Prince is a moving and complicated story. In fact it’s famously philosophical. What really matters in life?  What do we owe to others?‘ Once you have tamed someone, must you love them? (Yes)  Does the pilot survive? St. Exupery was a flyer and did indeed experience a near-death crash. But the little Prince simply is on a mission to find a friend – only to realize that his demanding  rose, the companion waiting back on the small asteroid, needed him as much as anyone and it was to her he returned resignedly in the end.  

The entire action was an accomplished polished performance from a cast clearly dedicated to the sense of loss and sadness in St. Expèry’s story and its life-affirming delights.

What a treat for Cambridge audiences and a show well worth wrangling any ticket to see. It leaves one question.  If this is The Junction in full swing , can we not have more from this elegant - breathtakingly well equipped  - small theatre?

And if this production can pack ‘em in (plenty of punters were turned away) then what more can be done in the future?

 The Little Prince tours 13 April - 1 June