There are lots of wonderful things about Little Angel. The theatre is a transformed former temperance hall, tucked away behind a busy Islington street. There’s something magical about visiting it: you have to quietly slip away from the hustle and bustle of chain restaurants, boutique shops and supermarkets, and take a turn through the leafy cemetery of St Mary’s Church, or some stylish side streets, or a little passageway, and there it is, while North London life beats on unawares and people all around are popping into Sainsbury’s, or hurrying to Angel Station, or waiting for an appointment at Pickering Dental Surgery.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of the theatre’s co-founder Lindie Wright ,through the window into the workshop, where every surface is covered by a collection of the many puppets who have played their part over almost 60 years. And then you’re settled into the cosy, 100-seater auditorium, waiting in the dark to be transported to a seaside village visited by a mysterious old man with enormous wings or a little mouse’s birthday party with a real birthday cake baked on stage, into one of your favourite books, like The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me and We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, or onto Noah’s Ark.
The particular wonderful thing about Little Angel Theatre that struck me while I was watching Sleeping Beauty in the Wood was its music. Performer and composer Arran Glass’s songs – folk tunes created on guitar and ukulele with a loop pedal and the enchanting harmonies of Glass and co-performer Rachel Leonard – elevate this adaptation of the classic fairytale. So often I find this to be the case with Little Angel’s productions, whether it’s the beautiful acapella songs of Go Noah Go, written by Peter Savizon & Sandra Bee with lyrics by John Agard; Barb Jungr’s catchy tunes in The Singing Mermaid; or Julian Butler’s evocative and at times heartbreaking soundtrack to the adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s The Paper Dolls. Little Angel Theatre specialises in puppetry, but the success of so much of its storytelling is the role artful music is also allowed to play.
This is not the first outing of Sleeping Beauty in the Wood: the show has been revised and remounted on at least a couple of previous occasions, giving new audiences a chance to be charmed by the bedposts that double as cleverly carved wooden puppets, and the ingenious uses of an overhead projector that allows us to see, for example, how a few branches can be transformed into a tangled thicket encircling the sleeping castle.
While this is still a story of spinning wheels and slumber, it’s probably not a version you will entirely recognize: the first half focuses mostly on the affectionate relationship between Sleeping Beauty’s parents, as the Queen’s bathtime is interrupted by a mysterious crab who tells her she is going to have a baby. But perhaps the most memorable, and unusual, moment takes place once that child has been born, reached 15, pricked her finger on a spindle and sent them all into a century-long snooze. Glass and Leonard recount the fates of those who tried and failed to get into the sleeping princess’s castle, and happen upon the skeleton of one of these unfortunate men. It’s hard to shake the image, as you slip back onto Upper Street and into reality, of this skeleton jigging and gyrating his detachable body parts, until the dance becomes an incredible duet with puppeteer Leonard. There are lots of wonderful things about Little Angel Theatre, and Sleeping Beauty in the Wood is one.
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