Islington puppet theatre pulls strings of time to celebrate 50 wonderful years

A puppet theatre which has kept the art alive for the past 50 years will celebrate its golden anniversary with the revival of its first ever show.

The Little Angel theatre in Islington has brought puppets and sets from its 1961 production Wild Night of the Witches out of storage, dusted them off, and restored them for the show’s return from September 9-11.

General manager Lynette Shanbury, who has been at the Dagmar Passage theatre for five years, explained the marionette – or long string puppet – production is very special to Little Angel.

She said: “It is the very first show ever shown here when the theatre opened and it was something like 20p a ticket at the time.”

Over 35 minutes it follows the story of two rival witches battling furiously over poisons and potions and two women fighting over a man with plenty of humour and a wedding along the way.

“It is all very classical and silly – a Victorian-style melodrama,” said Lynette.

A cast of six professional puppeteers training in marionette puppetry will take over the strings of the hand-crafted characters for the five performances of the show, directed by Ronnie Lee Drew and Sarah Wright.

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Not only has the theatre been bringing its magic to audiences for half a century, it also teaches the craft of puppetry and Lynette pointed out that by training the marionettes for the forthcoming play it ensures the dying art form continues.

It’s not surprising therefore that Little Angel, which also houses a workshop where all the productions and puppets are painstakingly crafted, is referred to as the “home of British puppetry”.

It was established in a derelict temperance hall during 1961 by the late John Wright – who crafted the original puppets for Wild Night of the Witches – and his wife Lyndie, who is soon to be awarded with the JM Barrie Award for her dedication to children’s arts. She retired in 2002 but she remains at the heart of the theatre and is currently designing its Christmas production.

Each show requires crafting new puppets and sets from scratch every time, but the low ticket prices rarely cover costs which meant the Little Angel was on the brink of closure several years ago.

But a fiercely fought campaign saved it and the theatre – which has a raft of celebrity fans including actor Clive Owen – continues to rely on grants and donations as an independent charity. Lynette explained the key to its longevity.

“There are very few places where you will see the sort of puppetry in this country that you can see here,” she said.

“We are absolutely unique in the work we do – it is a national and international gem right on Islington’s doorstep.

“People come from across the world to see the work established by John and Lyndie and the reputation that they have built up. And the atmosphere here is very friendly – we don’t stand on any ceremony, it’s all very relaxed.”

“So many people came here when they were young and now they come with their children or grandchildren. There is a real affection,” she added.

Tickets for Wild Night of the Witches cost �10 or �8 concessions and can be purchased from the box office on 020 72261787 or by visiting