Skitterbang Island

With rapidly increasing cuts to the arts it’s perhaps quite surprising that the growing art form of puppet opera is now making a more regular appearance in children’s theatres. As the luxury of in-school performances becomes a thing of the past, it’s imperative that there’s a way to introduce kids to the arts, and Polka Theatre and the Little Angel Theatre seem to have found the perfect way to do so.

Puppetry and opera have the potential to gel together so easily that it is no wonder that the companies have drawn on these two art forms to create the truly magical and engaging show Skitterbang Island. Aimed at an early years audience, the soothing, dulcet tones of Sani Muliaumaseali’i, Natalie Raybould and Lowri James really are quite enchanting and add a mystical quality to the work. They provide a wonderful accompaniment to composer Martin Ward’s intricate score that has been littered with arias, duets and trios. Ward hasn’t shied away from the complexities of a traditional opera format and has instead ensured that the fully sung-through libretto has been remained varied and exciting throughout.

This is a simple, heart-warming tale that sees Marie (Raybould) and her Uncle Edvard (Muliaumaseali’i) sailing across the sea until a sudden storm leaves each of them alone and shipwrecked on a remote island. Setting out in a hunt for her uncle, Marie meets the endearing and unusual character Skitterbang (James). After a short exchange, they become firm friends until her uncle stumbles across them. He’s automatically suspicious of this strange creature, but a short and sweet ending allows this attitude to lead to an understated moral message about friendship and trust.

The cast bring real life and energy into the three colourful puppets, leaving an audience of children – and their parents  enraptured for 45 minutes. The cast operate Sue Dacre’s charming puppets with ease, breathing life and warmth into their movements. Skitterbang in particular has been afforded intricate detail around his eyes that adds a tremendous amount to this quirky character.

Designer Laura McEwen’s rugged set could quite possibly have been formed from a shack on Skitterbang Island, as mismatched pieces have been imaginatively thrown together to create this enchanting world. Portholes and odd nautical themed items are in keeping with the tale and give the whole production a thorough and rounded feel. Smaller 2D puppets add variation, whilst Chris Barham’s lighting immerses the audience in the tale for brief periods – much to the delight of the many children.

Skitterbang Island is playing at the Little Angel Theatre until 15 June. For more information and tickets, see the Little Angel Theatre website.