It is such a rewarding experience going to the theatre with children. Tucked in the back on your own, being a 20-something in a small studio of what seems like a flood of kids can seem pretty daunting. But once the lights come down and the magic unfolds, it’s like being spellbound, experiencing the absolute awe of such innocent little people eager to immerse themselves in the play-pretend. Unfortunately some find children’s theatre of lesser priority and significance in the arts, a frustrating attitude indeed when you don’t have to use many precious brain-cells to realise that it is the new generation we have to captivate and nurture in order to change and influence the theatre (and world) of tomorrow. The ideas that spark the little ones in their first show might be the trigger into a career in the arts. Who knows? But one thing is for sure, and that is we need to treasure children’s theatre and help it blossom even more.
Luckily there are some brilliant companies and artists working hard to inspire little ones. Extending puppetry to new levels, Little Angel Theatre is renowned for its high quality work, specialising in exploring wonderful stories for children and adults through the art of puppetry. Returning with their production of Fantastic Mr Fox, the children are encouraged to plunge themselves into Roald Dahl’s imaginative universe, as Mr Fox outwits the three hostile farmers and saves his family and friends from starvation. It is a tale of morality and shows a younger audience the importance of empathy and why greediness is a vice worth defeating. Through song and clever interaction with the audience, the fox family and their friends lead us through an exciting adventure, digging their way through the farmers’ land and stealing their poultry in order to survive. The script is witty, slightly slapstick and a wee bit simple, but it gets the little ones going and is joyfully joined by Ben Glasstone’s swinging score, making it a little gem of a musical comedy.
Peter O’Rourke’s set and puppets are stunning and brilliantly lend themselves to various changes as we embark on Mr Fox’s journey. The puppets are not just incredibly cute, but every detail feeds into what seems like a simple but naturalistic movement of the animals and some solutions are just hilariously inventive. Steve Tiplady’s directing not only shows a great passion for breathing life into the puppets and their sense of storytelling; the many details in the structure of scenes are on point and simply guide us through the narrative without treading water at any point.
The cast of only four actors bravely take on the challenge of bringing this energetic piece to life. Projecting an explosion of energy onto each puppet, the puppeteers show an incredible skill for focusing the audience in on the puppet rather than the performer. Vocally, they master the difficulty of the physical challenges of changing puppets and characters rapidly, and being visual at times we are asked to accept that they are active performers, yet not interfering characters in the story. It is a loveable, energetic piece of theatre that relates to its younger audience more than anyone. It very clearly works the best with its young age group, but adults will love the sweetness and innocence of it as well. Coupled with a beautiful and very detailed design, Sarah Woods’s adaptation has heart and projects a very positive atmosphere for children (and adults) to fall in love with.
Fantastic Mr Fox is playing at the Little Angel Theatre until 9 November. For more information and tickets, see the Little Angel Theatre website.