Part of the magic of a trip to Little Angel Theatre is finding the venue itself – tucked away off Islington’s busy Upper Street, London’s only puppet theatre has long been considered a “hidden gem”. But, for those looking for further adventure, Little Angel has another secret up its sleeve: their studio, just a couple of streets away. Whilst Little Angel’s main theatre building has a traditional proscenium stage, the studio is a flexible space that allows for more creative staging. At the moment, audiences are invited to sit on branches and leaves in a woodland glade (a transformed bell tent) for Arnold’s Big Adventure.
It’s Drop Day, and whilst his hundreds of brothers and sisters have already fallen, Arnold the Acorn is last to leave the tree. As he begins his descent, a gust of wind blows Arnold away from the safety of his branch and on a journey through the sky, across the world, and into the sea. Arnold is a pretty blank slate – he really is just a nut, with little personality to speak of – so the audience is not invested in him so much as in the narrators’ quest to tell his story.
For a show which seems initially to be about trees, the tale progresses in a totally unexpected way, but it allows for some of the bravest and most ambitious onstage use of water I’ve seen, as well as effective shadow puppetry across the tent’s walls. Creator Tessa Bide and actor Megan Vaughan-Thomas enthusiastically lead the way through a performance that is as much about audience activity as it is about narrative. Arnold’s Big Adventure is a drama workshop, a storytelling session, and a theatrical experience – the tent (and Little Angel’s studio space) give the piece freedom to play with what a play for young audiences can be.
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