Review: WOW! Said the Owl, Little Angel Theatre
5.0Overall Score

Little Angel Theatre, in Islington, has been creating puppetry theatre for young audiences for over half a century, bringing innovative illusionary effects to the stage in deceptively simple ways. WOW! Said the Owl, though an online performance, is no exception to the high standards expected from this theatre.

The performance is an interactive story for children aged 2 to 5, incorporating vibrant performance with dynamic theatrical aesthetics to create a glorious experience which engages and delights. Adapted from Tim Hopgood’s book (of the same name) by director Joy Haynes, WOW! Said the Owl is the story of an owl who stays awake past sunrise to see what happens during the day.

Performer Nix Wood narrates and uses a variety of different theatrical techniques to tell the story. She breathes life into the characters with an eclectic range of vocal styles and movements, displaying great skill in making the performance captivating for her young audience. As well as spoken word, she sings along to music by Dominic Sales, which encourages her audience to join in whilst teaching us about the different colours, giving to each a different energy and emotion. Adding to the pre-recorded music are instruments that Wood uses to reinvigorate the storytelling process; she incorporates keys, maracas, shells, even a ukulele.

At the heart of the production are the Puppets, designed by Keith Frederick. They range from small shadow puppets to show the rising of the moon and the flight of birds across the stage, to a large owl, designed to incorporate the actors costume with two large discs and a beak. The owl central to the story, however, is a far more complexly designed puppet — more in its looks than its operation — giving us a clear picture of the owl, as well as a physical presence on stage throughout the show.

Wood expertly operates each puppet by string and occasionally they create a puppet right before our eyes from a piece of fabric. The puppets interact with us and Wood, truly coming alive. My favourite puppet moment is the grumpy cloud who introduces us to the colour grey, and gloomily eats up all the other colours. Innovatively made from bin liners (and a puppetry mechanism to operate the mouth) it is a very effective way of inspiring creativity in the younger audience, giving them ways of telling their own stories with found objects.

The set, by Fiammetta Horvat, compact and enclosed, allows for hidden pockets of excitement everywhere. It feels like a magic show, as Wood pulls various flowers, ribbons, and musical instruments from around the stage, with some even incorporated into her costume. Each object is filled with energy as she pulls it free and introduces it to the rest of the stage, nothing ever remains lifeless, but adds a visual focus that aids in the storytelling.

Though the set is a clear white, the lighting design brings vibrant colour to the stage. From the darkness of night — where dark blues and shadow are used to full advantage — we follow the passage of time as the owl learns about the different colours: the pinks and purples of the sunrise, the bright yellows of the sun, enchanting blues of the sky, and mysterious greens of the trees. The lighting adds a definition to the space, eventually coming full circle back to black only to reveal the beauty of the twinkling stars at night. Like moving to technicolour TV from black and white, the design team are clearly adept at pulling these elements together in synchronicity, not distracting but adding to the overall message of the show.

Following the performance, which is pre-recorded, is a live Zoom session with the performer, who takes the children through some interactive games based around the story of the show. It’s a great way to remove any distance between the show and it’s audience, creating a bridge that pulls us in and shows us how we too can expand our imaginations and tell stories of our own — if we can think it, then it can be real!

WOW! Said the Owl is showing online until 31 December. For more information and to book tickets, visit Little Angel Theatre online.