Visiting the Home of British Puppetry

Little Angel Theatre are a magical company; their puppets are delightfully distinctive in appearance, and they produce an astonishing variety of puppetry forms and styles, engaging audiences of all ages and from all places! Learning about the fifty year history of the theatre company it became a sincere wish of mine to visit their home in Islington, London, and that wish finally came true this festive season! Before I go onto that though I should give a little background as to how I became so enchanted by their work…

When I saw Little Angel Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in 2011, it was on a trip for one of my modules at university and therefore I was encouraged to view it with a critical eye, but I could not help but be charmed by the clever simplicity of the performance! The production was a heavily adapted version of Shakespeare’s text, specifically for children, culminating in a performance that employed superb interaction between actor and puppet. An outstanding example was the creature, Caliban, standing at five feet tall with a minimum of two puppeteers manoeuvring him around the space. The story of The Tempest is highly suited for puppetry; the concept of spirits and magic guiding the happenings on the island…

In February of last year I went to Bristol Old Vic to see Little Angel again, this time in association with Kneehigh Theatre, and the production: A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. I was absolutely captivated by the story and the medium through which it was told; puppetry that took different styles and sizes in order for the various scenes to be played out. The puppeteers are not deliberately hidden from the audience, blending in to the background and moving in harmony with the action, but what fascinated me most was their ability to transform the perspective for the audience! All the puppetry was performed at short distance from the spectators, but when a scene needed to show something that was happening far away then a smaller scale version of exactly the same puppet was brought into play, and this magic was incredible to witness.

Last week with my family I travelled to London to see The Night Before Christmas. Even as we walked through the door the Little Angel Theatre staff were extremely welcoming and friendly and even though there was only a short amount of time between the matinée performances, when they heard that I had already had the privilege of meeting some of the company, we were very kindly invited to have a peek around this amazing and unique space. Sarah Wright, the director of A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings and a delightful lady whom I had had the great pleasure of meeting at the Bristol Festival of Puppetry, was operating in the workshop, so it was lovely to see her in her home environment. The workshop was the epitome of Aladdin’s cave, filled with wonder and hidden treasures; magnificent creations of all shapes and sizes, and the occasional exciting prototypes for future projects! This was followed by a very honoured moment as we also stepped backstage to see the breathtaking (and possibly unique) double marionette bridge, meet one of their original marionettes, and be warmly received by the supremely talented cast of The Night Before Christmas, puppeteers Ruth, Michael and Clare, before we wished them luck for their afternoon show.

The Night Before Christmas is another enchanting production from Little Angel Theatre, presenting a fun, emotive and terrifically jovial story, utilising some of the storytelling techniques that enthralled me so in A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. I would urge you to go see The Night Before Christmas, but unfortunately the run has now finished. However, I guarantee that you will have a truly splendid afternoon at the theatre if you can ever see any of their productions, for anything that I have seen the Little Angel Theatre produce contains an abundance of wonderment and awe; fully engaging with you and your imagination, whatever age you happen to believe yourself to be.

TJM

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