If being stuck in landlocked London during this unprecedented heatwave has left you longing to be beside the seaside, fret not! There’s no need to travel to the coast: Little Angel have brought the beach to Islington. The theatre’s studio has been transformed to offer all the best bits about a trip to the beach – a pier, buckets and spades, and Punch & Judy – without circling seagulls threatening to nick your chips.
Little Angel by the Sea is an homage to the traditional British seaside holiday (though my annual trips to Weymouth as a child dictate that a grey drizzle would be more authentic than this 30 degree sunshine). From building sandcastles to playing Hook-a-Duck, it recreates iconic seaside experiences, and none more so than Punch & Judy, who were included on a government website as one of 12 ‘national treasures’ (alongside Stonehenge, a cup of tea, and the Routemaster bus).
For the uninitiated, it may seem strange that Punch & Judy – with its grotesque puppets, anarchic humour and violence – is so deeply entwined with our national identity, and yet the popularity of Punch has endured in the UK since at least 1662, when Samuel Pepys recorded the earliest mention of the character after seeing (and thoroughly enjoying) a puppet play featuring him in Covent Garden.
Little Angel’s show is distinctly more family-friendly than the shows I watched in the ‘90s – Punch merely bops people on the head with a balloon where he might otherwise have thwacked them with his wooden stick – whilst still retaining the characters and events audiences know and love. Punch and Judy still bicker over who will look after Baby, Punch still gets the better of a policeman and narrowly escapes a run-in with a crocodile, there are still plenty of sausages, and it is still thoroughly charming.
Where Little Angel goes one better than even the best seaside resort is in giving the audience a chance to create their own puppet afterwards. Little Angel has long been known as a home for puppetry, but the success of Santa’s Little Workshop, Junk and now Little Angel by the Sea should see the venue being equally well-recognised for the extraordinary immersive promenade performances they offer young audiences. As Punch says, “That’s the way to do it!”
Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.