The Journey Home

Review by Flossie Waite
A Little Angel Theatre Production
Little Angel Theatre
12th Sept – 28th Oct
For ages 4 – 11

“Where did you come from, where will you go now? Home is where the wind blows, and when we’ll get there we’ll know.” So goes Arran Glass’s composition, as a monkey, elephant, panda and polar bear sail across the world’s oceans, ousted from their homes by climate change, or hunters, or deforestation, or city development. Little Angel Theatre’s adaptation of Frann Preston-Gannon’s picturebook contemplates environmentalism and conservation, but to see the four animals in a little boat, lost at sea, whilst listening to those lyrics, is also to recognise recent images of the Refugee Crisis. No doubt about it, The Journey Home explores big, sad subjects, but it is also hopeful, without offering a happy ending.

The cozy environment of Little Angel Theatre, so used to making audiences feel safe in the dark, is a big reason why The Journey Home doesn’t become too upsetting. As the auditorium falls into blackness at the play’s opening, closely-lit gulls swoop down the aisle and across the stage, gently acclimatising the audience before the show’s first character, the polar bear, lumbers into view. A kaleidoscope of colours twinkling across the back of the stage, with a lullaby-like lilt about the aurora borealis, and we’re there, in that gentle, quiet, reverential space reserved for the most deserving of theatre.

Slipping across the ice, the polar bear offers some immediate comic relief, though it becomes clear that his clumsy falls are caused by the ice slowly melting. Left to drift once his environment completely breaks apart, he finds a boat, and collects animals facing a similar plight as he sails by. Different means are found to tell each story. The sudden population of huge skyscrapers where bamboo trees used to be is effectively illustrated by the large panda puppet being switched to a much smaller model, a change in perspective that shows his whole world being swamped by tall buildings. The monkey happily calls out to his friend in a neighbouring tree, but once the forest is cut down, he stops receiving a response. The flickering photos of an old-fashioned slideshow project images of the elephant with his mother, until she is killed for her tusks and he is left alone. This is dark stuff, compassionately and inventively communicated, though rest assured it is aimed appropriately at its ages 4+ audience.

Aside from any morals or messages to be found here, the combination of the exquisite music, thoughtful set and puppet design (Sally Todd), and meaningful puppeteering make this a truly beautiful production.

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