Live theatre returns as Little Angel reopens with Smartest Giant in Town
- Credit: Ellie Kurttz
The Little Angel Theatre welcomes back audiences next month with a new show of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's The Smartest Giant In Town.
Among the first live theatre to open for children since venues closed last year, the adaptation by musician Barb Jungr and Little Angel artistic director Samantha Lane is among the highlights of the puppet theatre's 60th anniversary season.
The children's author, who was raised in Hampstead, said: "I am so pleased Little Angel Theatre is able to open its doors after lockdown, welcoming back families to enjoy live performance. It is such an important experience and we have badly missed it in the last year. Little Angel have done other wonderful adaptations of my stories, and I know that this will be just as special. To have ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’ as their first live show, with its themes of friendship and kindness, seems timely. I also want to congratulate the theatre on their 60th anniversary - what an achievement!"
Scheffler added that he was "very fond" of George the Giant, who gives away his smart clothes to his needy animal friends.
"I enjoyed creating his world with its mix of town and countryside, a place where everyone lives together harmoniously, and I am looking forward to seeing it all in 3D with the set and puppets; the creative team are bringing it to life in such a brilliant way."
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Samantha Lane, who also directs the socially distanced show, said it was "an incredibly joyful story with a beautiful message about what it means to be smart, whether that's inside your head or what you wear."
"Julia Donaldson is a real supporter and pretty open to us making a version of one of her books. I am excited that we are finally going to open to live audiences with such a modern classic and bring the joy of live theatre to families once again."
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Lane said it had been "a rollercoaster of a year" constantly adjusting plans to run virtual productions, craft workshops, live summer shows, and a schools tour halted by the second lockdown that turned digital.
"I have children aged 11 and 9 and right at the beginning I went into panic mode thinking 'how am I going to look after two children and combine work?'"
She came up with home videos, posted on the Little Angel's website, of them making a puppet show together "a lovely way to combine doing something creative with my children with something practical."
Also popular during lockdown were the venue's home puppet making guides: "As a parent, every day you are witnessing how they are missing out on normal childhood. When we couldn't open our doors we asked, 'how can we be a useful resource for parents in this environment?' We were creating stories and downloadable resources of things you could make at home with found resources like toilet rolls and boxes.
"When we did the puppet picnics in Islington Square, people were saying 'thank you for providing something for us to do with the family'. When it became apparent that schools would reopen, we made a Covid safe show to take into schools with one performer who could carry the set on a small trolley. But we were always aware things could change so we made plans to present the show digitally. Luckily we are small and flexible enough to change. We also heavily rely on box office and fundraising and didn't have the luxury of sitting back and saying 'we have our funding, let's close our doors and think for a while'."
She adds: "We had a responsibility to engage with our audience and do things for children digitally while being conscious there was a real problem with digital exclusion. We continued our community work face to face sending craft packs to residents and running socially distanced crafternoon sessions."
Little Angel's digital offer reached 90 countries and garnered hundreds of donations from individuals.
Lane adds: "The bulk of financial loss has been plugged by trust and foundation funding and the Culture recovery fund. I won't pretend we don't still have a large fundraising target, but feel confident that our model is flexible and we have an exciting year ahead."
She paid tribute to the "spirit of innovation" of the Wright family who started the theatre in Dagmar Passage in 1961.
"They said 'here's an opportunity, let's go with it and see what happens'. That give things a go spirit has seen it grow. During the pandemic us saying 'let's try it and see if it works' was part of the legacy of the Wright's risk taking."
Lyndie Wright still lives next to the theatre and makes puppets for shows, daughter Sarah is a trustee, and film director Joe "pops into say hello when he is here." Among the birthday celebrations are free "behind the scenes" interviews with puppet makers and designers who have worked at Little Angel.
"Little Angel is as much about the craft of making puppets as it is about performing."
Where The Bugaboo Lives, a live online interactive Zoom show runs until May 2. People Behind the Puppets can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmAEEtplnZ3YkZ3FWfbwJPQ. Tickets for The Smartest Giant in Town go on sale May 12.