Little Angel Theatre toured Handa’s Surprise to sell-out audiences in 2014, and having now seen its sequel, I can fully appreciate why. As is often the case with stage adaptations, we hadn’t read the original text, so had no preconceptions, just open minds. If we really love the show, we’ll buy the book after, and it soon becomes a bedtime favourite: a really nice way of remembering the production we saw. Needless to say we have now ordered Eileen’s Browne’s Handa’s Hen.
Like its prequel, the story involves friends Handa and Akeyo, and a journey. Together, they are looking for Grandma’s hen Mondi, but keep meeting other animals along the way. Mumba Dodwell’s smiley, wide-eyed portrayal of Akeyo is totally captivating for the young audience, and every time she appeared you could see their eyes light up.
There are so many things that make this production special, starting with just how much the audience learn about Kenyan culture without even realising it (Handa is from the Luo tribe of South West Kenya). By the end we could count to ten in Swahili and had been introduced to different types of unusual animals, from sunbirds to spoonbills!
Having seen director Maurleen Vermeulen’s solo performance in Tam Tam Theatre’s Circles in the Sand at Polka Theatre last summer, I recognised the same warmth and gentle approach. She has clearly focused on inclusivity and interaction in this show, apparent from the moment children are seated on on-stage cushions. The production is performed in very close proximity to its young audience, with actors introducing puppets to them and subsequently breaking the fourth wall. It proved difficult, therefore, for some enchanted children not to wander on-stage mid-performance, especially as they were mesmerised by over 55 puppets in 35 minutes!
This is a perfect touring production with very simplistic, slick scenery and set changes that happen with ease. The lighting is a basic open wash with no blackouts to break the flow, though some little ones do benefit from the lights going down to indicate that the performance is beginning. Don’t miss this production – the adults enjoy it just as much as the children!
For any early years or key stage 1 teachers who are going to or have already seen this production, this resource is a really lovely way of linking Drama and Literature back in the classroom: http://www.free-range-learning.co.uk/2015/03/10/but-wheres-mondi-5-easy-activities-with-handas-hen/
Holly is a Drama Education consultant who trained originally in Stage Management at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She became a secondary Drama teacher before moving into curriculum design and reform. Holly is part of the exec at National Drama as well as Vice Chair of Governors at her local primary school, and most importantly is a Mum to her 1 year old little boy. You can read more about what Holly gets up to on her blog. Tweet Holly @drama_holly