The Little Angel Theatre is celebrating its fifthieth year by teaming up with Mike Shepherd and Kneehigh Theatre company for A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. This production shows that Little Angel really has something to celebrate, with a production that deserves to have a few champagne corks popped for it.

If I mention puppets, many of you will sneer, or even hover over the X in the top right hand corner. DON’T! Stick with me, I want to change your preconceptions, for this is no way a take on a shabby Punch and Judy, and I would wager that in seeing this production you would definitely reconsider – and maybe even book to see it again.

How can I be so confident? Because, to put it simply, Little Angel and Kneehigh have created a piece of theatre that is visually stunning and all together rather beautiful. It’s enchanting, and I found myself completely focused on the little stage as they evoked every part of my imagination. Doesn’t sound like your average puppet show huh?

We arrive in a little seaside village that has been overrun by lots of crabs. The first scene sees the villagers battle to remove them from every nook and cranny. A local boy has also been extremely feverish for some weeks and there is concern that he may not pull through. Until, during a storm, an old man with enormous wings comes crashing down on the shore, his fluttering fills the theatre as he battles to continue his flight. As the storm passes the villagers quickly venture out to see what this creature is. They realise that their crustacean problem has been eradicated and the little boy is suddenly fit and healthy. How did this happen?

A couple quickly capture the man and cash in on his healing powers, but by act two we realise that the whole village has managed to spin this good fortune, as the tour buses arrive in their droves and American tourists are ready to splash the cash for a quick photo. The lovable nosy neighbour who guides us through this tale even opens up a tea room.

The team of highly skilled puppeteers (Sarah Wright, Roger Lade, Ruth Calkin and Rachel Leonard) work their way through some 100 puppets in this production, singing and characterising a whole community of puppets with ease. For those who think puppetry is easy, you’d be wrong as it is a very skilled art to get the audience to focus on the puppet rather than the manipulator, and to believe that the puppet is actually thinking, breathing and believeable. As you would expect with 50 years experience, this really isn’t an issue for this talented team.

The piece, set on an inventive design by Little Angel founder Lyndie Wright, really submerges the audience in this tiny world, and I couldn’t help but think half way through how truly special this experience was. After seeing shows night after night, it takes a performance such as this to really wake you up and witness some true creativity. I left the theatre having seen something really special.

Happy Birthday, Little Angel Theatre, and here’s to the next!

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings is playing at Little Angel Theatre until 29 January 2012. For more information, and to buy tickets, see the Little Angel Theatre’s website here.