Islington: Little Angel Theatre celebrates 60 years of puppets

Lyndie Wright has been at the helm since the theatre began.

Lyndie Wright has been at the helm since the theatre began. - Credit: Juliette Fevre

Often, entertainment and joy don’t require an over-saturation of noise and colours. Sometimes, a story can be shaped by the imagination.

The Islington Little Angel Theatre has all sorts of stories to tell. Stories are inlaid in the walls of the place. And one of them goes back to November 24, of 1961. 

That day brought to the world the Little Angel Theatre, which now celebrates its 60th year. 

The theatre established in 1961.

The theatre established in 1961. - Credit: Juliette Fevre

The theatre’s parents were (the then young) Lyndie and John Wright, backed up by an enthusiastic troupe of puppeteers. 

Tucked away down the quiet Dagmar Passage, a derelict temperance hall would soon welcome the very first show the theatre has ever performed: The Little Mermaid. 

From then on, Little Angel Theatre started offering three different studio spaces. 

The Little Mermaid was the first show ever performed

The Little Mermaid was the first show ever performed - Credit: Juliette Fevre

“Over time, we built up four stages, previous artistic directors and people who ran the theatre enabled different sorts of puppetry to be performed,” said executive director Peta Swindall.

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To celebrate, a special anniversary puppet exhibition has been set up, displaying the family's treasure trove of string puppets, curated by Lyndie. 

Adjoining the theatre, the exhibition takes place in Lyndie’s workshop, stocked with paint pots, brushes and all a puppet maker needs to create the magic. 

There, Lyndie would bring hundreds of puppets to life for 60 years. “And it’s been a wonderful journey all the way along,” said Lyndie, with a frank smile. 

In the luminous long room, visitors, in awe, meet puppets from all walks of life. “Some of them have traveled, the little ones up there have all been up to Congo,” said Lyndie, pointing at a whole colony of marionettes. 

The theatre has four stages and three studios. 

The theatre has four stages and three studios. - Credit: Juliette Fevre

An old newspaper clipping hung on a wall reads: “It will be the first puppet theatre in England for more than 100 years.” 

As a matter of fact, when John and Lyndie settled down in 1961, nothing like a theatre designed especially for marionette shows existed in London. 

“There’s something magical about a marionette,” said staff member Ronnie Le Drew, whose passion for puppets doesn’t seem to have faded away with time. 

A special anniversary puppet exhibition has been set up, displaying the family's treasure trove of string puppets

A special anniversary puppet exhibition has been set up, displaying the family's treasure trove of string puppets - Credit: Juliette Fevre

On demand, Ronnie animates the marionettes for the enjoyment of kids and not-so-kids-anymore, using his adroitness with the wooden and strings system to control puppets.

Sarah Wright, Lyndie and John’s daughter, who has undoubtedly been raised by puppets and now teaches the art of puppeteering, also performs for the mesmerised visitors.

When John and Lyndie settled down in 1961, nothing like this existed

When John and Lyndie settled down in 1961, nothing like a theatre designed especially for marionette shows existed in London. - Credit: Juliette Fevre

Introducing her favourite one, Rapunzel, Lyndie explained the science behind the magic: “Each puppet is so different.

“When you make a drawing, you already know what kind of movement it’s going to have by the length of the limbs and the amount of play that there is in the knees.”

“Everyone remembers their favourite puppet as a child, right?” asked artistic director Samantha Lane, joyfully. 

On demand, John animates the marionettes for the enjoyment of kids and not-so-kids-anymore

There is set to be a new Christmas exhibition. - Credit: Juliette Fevre

For her, the joy of puppet lies in the “willingness and playfulness a child has to suspend their disbelief.”

This festive season, the Little Angel Theatre is starring two stories of love, loss and friendship. 

“There may be a castle” is the world premiere of a new musical adaptation of Piers Torday’s novel.

The second one is a co-production with York Theatre Royal, the Marlowe Theatre and Engine House, based on Benji Davies’ children’s stories, “The storm whale.”

Sarah Wright, Lyndie and John’s daughter, who has undoubtedly been raised by puppets and now teaches the art of puppeteering

Sarah Wright, Lyndie and John’s daughter, who has undoubtedly been raised by puppets and now teaches the art of puppeteering - Credit: Juliette Fevre

The theatre is now partnering with eight Islington-based schools, each of them will bring two classes to one of the show and follow-up workshops. 

“The Little Angel Theatre is steeped in history, said Peta and Samantha, and has inspired and entertained children and their families for many, many years.”

Little Angel Theatre regularly welcomes local schools.

Little Angel Theatre regularly welcomes local schools. - Credit: Juliette Fevre

This festive season, the Little Angel Theatre is starring two stories of love, loss and friendship

This festive season, the Little Angel Theatre is starring two stories of love, loss and friendship. - Credit: Juliette Fevre

“We look forward to what the next 60 years will bring,” they added. The story is to be continued. 

www.littleangeltheatre.com 

The original article had attributed 'John Wright' to the quotations that have now been amended to correctly state Ronnie Le Drew.  

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