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Little Angel Theatre: Who pulls the strings at 'hidden gem' of Upper Street?

PUBLISHED: 16:37 07 October 2016 | UPDATED: 17:09 07 October 2016

Christopher Leith and Lyndie Wright in the Little Angel Theatre workshop. Picture: Little Angel Theatre

Christopher Leith and Lyndie Wright in the Little Angel Theatre workshop. Picture: Little Angel Theatre

Archant

From a quiet side street in the heart of Islington, puppets have amused families at Little Angel Theatre for 55 years. James Morris asks how.

Emily Rising, the latest show at Little Angel Theatre. Picture: Ellie KurttzEmily Rising, the latest show at Little Angel Theatre. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

If you have children, chances are you have experienced the joys of Little Angel Theatre in Dagmar Passage. This small, 100-seat venue off Upper Street is home to London’s sole puppet theatre – and one of only three in England.

Puppet masters John and Lyndie Wright opened it 55 years ago, in November 1961. More than just a theatre, it also has a workshop dedicated to making the puppets used in Little Angel’s productions.

With the latest show, Emily Rising, halfway through its two-month run, artistic director Samantha Lane reckons John and Lyndie’s values live on to this day.

“Our longevity is down to having a unique selling point,” she says. “Hardly anyone else is doing it.

Lyndie Wright, John Wright and Ronnie le Drew pulling the strings at an early Little Angel Theatre show. Picture: Little Angel TheatreLyndie Wright, John Wright and Ronnie le Drew pulling the strings at an early Little Angel Theatre show. Picture: Little Angel Theatre

“And because of the legacy of the Wright family, we continue to get the best puppet makers and performers through our doors. Our reputation has only grown.”

The building was a derelict former temperance hall (a type of pub that refused to sell alcohol) when John stumbled across it in 1961.

He and Lyndie were so committed to their theatre that they moved their entire family there.

“They lived and breathed Little Angel,” Samantha says.

John Wright, Lyndie Wright, Christopher Leith, Ronnie le Drew and Joyce Wre at Little Angel Theatre. Picture: Little Angel TheatreJohn Wright, Lyndie Wright, Christopher Leith, Ronnie le Drew and Joyce Wre at Little Angel Theatre. Picture: Little Angel Theatre

“It progressed because it was very much a family business that knew what it wanted.

“It was about focus on high quality puppet making, finding their target audience of children and making really good shows not just for the theatre, but to tour across Europe with.”

To this day, Lyndie still lives in the cottage next door. In 1991, when John died, she handed Little Angel to a board of trustees. She is still heavily involved as honorary patron, and helps with puppet production in the workshop.

This manufacturing aspect is “incredibly important” to the theatre’s identity, Samantha adds.

Emily Rising, the latest show at Little Angel Theatre. Picture: Ellie KurttzEmily Rising, the latest show at Little Angel Theatre. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

“The puppets must be high quality. A lot of time and energy goes into it. It’s really important to have people who know what they are doing.

“We are actually starting a puppet making apprenticeship programme in January. We want to make sure the skills of the older generation are passed on.”

And Samantha says Little Angel continues to be an important part of Islington’s heritage.

“Predominantly, we target families but want to make it accessible for everybody. Emily Rising is a good example. I think that can appeal to a broad age range, from seven to 37 to 77.

Emily Rising, the latest show at Little Angel Theatre. Picture: Ellie KurttzEmily Rising, the latest show at Little Angel Theatre. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

“I think it’s really important to people in Islington. I have adults in their 30s and 40s telling me their first theatre experience was at Little Angel. We have people who were children in John and Lyndie’s time who are now coming back with their own kids.

“A lot people describe it as Islington’s hidden gem, tucked away off Upper Street. I think most people who grew up in this borough, or who have lived here a long time, are more than likely to have very fond memories.”

Emily Rising is the story of a 10-year-old girl who wakes up in her family’s Islington flat to discover that her feet can no longer touch the ground. The show runs until November 10 and tickets start at £5. Visit littleangeltheatre.com for more

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