Writer: Annamaria Murphy
Music: Ian Ross and Benji Bower
Director: Mike Shepherd
Reviewer: Catherine Love
The Public Reviews Rating:
Big birthdays demand big celebrations, and the Little Angel Theatre has certainly brought out the bunting in style. Inspired by a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this latest show at the cosy puppet theatre in Islington tells the tale of a small Cornish community and the shattering, far-reaching effects of a sudden and particularly strange arrival. When an unexplained winged man crash lands in the village and begins performing what appear to be miracles, he becomes an odd mixture of angel and freak celebrity, tied up in the chicken coop as a money-spinning tourist attraction.
The Little Angel Theatre, celebrating its 50th anniversary with this collaboration with theatre company Kneehigh, is the perfect setting for Marquez’s strange and enchanting tale. Something of a magical grotto itself, a giant doll’s house where beautifully crafted puppets gaze down from the walls, the theatre allows audiences to be immersed in this bizarre fantasy and whisked away to a world almost like our own but not quite. As the village grows in fame and wealth, satellite dishes pepper the roofs, followed by a television report about a woman who has been transformed into a tarantula – a typical example of how the mundane and the odd are melted together in this charming tale.
Magic realism, the genre upon which Marquez had such an influential effect, is correspondingly evoked by Mike Shepherd’s magical and at times surreal production. In this respect, puppets are the perfect performers to act out a tale that is one step removed from the real – and quite wonderful puppets they are, skilfully and sensitively brought to life by the small cast of four puppeteers. Lyndie Wright’s design is a blend of the majestically beautiful, in the form of the old man and the dramatic backdrop of tumultuous sky, and the recognisably grounded and very British puppets and scenery of the Cornish village. Ian Ross and Benji Bower’s music, meanwhile, is at times haunting and unsettling, at others infectiously cheery, but always atmospheric and loaded with a fitting sense of the fantastical.
While entertainment and aesthetic beauty are at the forefront of what the Little Angel Theatre and Kneehigh have produced, there are deeper currents beneath this, as might only be expected from a show based on the fiction of Marquez. Themes such as loneliness, escape and fame thread through the narrative, while the visual imagery of the old man tied up for village entertainment subtly evokes Christ on the cross. There are also some rather more contemporary references, with writer Annamaria Murphy unable to resist having an amusing pop at bankers that thinly veils bitter truths. Some of these ideas could be probed further, though perhaps a family show is not the arena for such intense examination.
While older members of the audience may yearn for a little more, the Little Angel Theatre and Kneehigh have achieved that ideal formula for family entertainment: plenty of visual stimulation and jokes to keep the little ones happy, combined with underlying and universal adult themes. Leaving cynicism at the door, this 50th anniversary celebration is an hour and a half of pure magic.