Review: Moon River/What a Wonderful World, Little Angel Theatre

The Islington based Little Angel Theatre has a long history in producing innovative puppetry for 0-11-year olds. Opening its doors in 1961 they also run community events, courses and classes for children and adults whilst nurturing artist’s talent. Something which they have carried over into this time of quarantine and closed theatre doors. On their YouTube channel, you can find a Get Creative playlist where they share ideas for making your own puppets and other crafts you can do at home. On another playlist, The Little Angel Theatre has created and produced a variety of picture book adaptions in their Puppetry Sofa Series. Amongst their adaptions of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back series, the theatre’s newest pieces are Moon River and What a Wonderful Word based on the books by Tim Hopgood.

Taking inspiration from the Oscar-winning song composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Moon River follows a little girl accompanied by her teddy bear on a magical journey along the mystical Moon River. Riding the girl’s noble rocking horse these two drifters dream their way through the bedroom window and out into the big wide world.

Alison Alexander’s design for both pieces is a mixture of pop-up book and puppetry. As the pages are turned, performers Alexander and Chris Mason lift Hopgood’s images off the pages as they bring the cut-out puppets to life. The little girl and her companions dance and drift along the river catching falling stars and visiting cities across the world. The blue and pink marbled background changes to black as the night progresses and their travels draw to a close.

Composed by songwriters George David Weiss and Robert Thiele, What a Wonderful World became a chart-topping hit when first recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1967. In 1999 Armstrong’s recording was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Through his illustrations, Hopgood gives the well-loved song a visual story as his illustrations follow one little boy as he discovers just how wonderful this world of ours can be. Alexander’s unique design lifts Hopgood’s illustrations out of the book as mountain ranges burst from the pages and dolphins join the boy as he explores the life and beauty below the waves.

The detail of each page is astounding. Even after watching the videos a few times, I keep finding new treasures, as Alexander and Mason manipulate the characters through the environments inspired by Hopgood’s gorgeous illustrations. Such as the baby in the wicker basket turning into a globe as the words from What a Wonderful World move from “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow. Then I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

Moon River and What a Wonderful Word along with the other videos in their Puppetry Sofa Series, truly celebrate the ingenuity of theatre and prove that, even after the stress and struggles of the past months, there is still a lot of wonderful world out there to be discovered.

Moon River and What a Wonderful World are available for free on the Little Angel Theatre YouTube channel until Wednesday 30 September 2020. For more information, see Little Angels’s website.