The Little Angel Theatre is an absolute gem, tucked away behind a church in Islington in an old Temperance Hall. It is a charming, welcoming little building that retains the feel of a church hall. I loved it on first sight, and am only sad that I somehow didn't know about it until now. The theatre has been going since 1961, and is a dedicated puppet theatre.
My niece and I went along to catch a performance of The Tear Thief, which is based on the book by Carol Ann Duffy. I am a big fan of her writing so was very optimistic that we were in for something special. I am thrilled to report that the performance is everything I had hoped. The set, the puppets, the music, the narration and the puppeteers were all superb. Combined all together they make for a spellbinding forty-five minutes.
The Tear Thief is an invisible silvery creature, carrying a silver sack, who roams the streets in the hour between supper and bedtime collecting the tears of children. She listens at chimney pots for the sounds of crying, and then swoops down to catch those tears and puts them safely in her sack. She has a very special use for them, as we find out when her reflection is spotted in a puddle by a little girl who has lost her dog. The little girl's tears of pure sadness are the most valuable type; she trades them with the Tear Thief in return for her story.
The story is narrated by Juliet Stevenson, on a recorded soundtrack. The puppeteers give their voices to the characters on stage, and there is beautiful live music courtesy of James Hesford. He plays a variety of instruments, and adds to the recorded music. The music is, I think, intrinsic to the performance. It gives an overall structure and accentuates the moods and highs and lows of the tale. I really liked the way in which the two puppeteers were part of the performance too. They first show themselves whilst moving set furniture around with cheeky grins, popping up from behind the chimneys. They work so well together, and never detract from the puppets themselves.
The Tear Thief makes her appearance on top of the moon, all shimmery and ethereal. She is incredibly expressive, and mixes cute and otherworldy perfectly. She is rightly the star of the show. She looks like a small child but also has that appearance of agelessness that suggests she has been around forever. The little girl puppet is also lovely; the sequence where she is running and splashing through puddles is great. There is also a clever chase section using silhouette cut-outs that is fun and effective. Along with the elongated houses and street scene that make up the simple set the audience's attention is maintained throughout, and also focused clearly. I think this is important for a show designed with younger children in mind. The children were rapt during the performance, with very little fidgeting or chattering at all. Although, saying that, the child accompanying me was positively with squirming with joy at times!
The staff at the theatre are lovely and friendly, and they make it a priority to seat youngsters at the front so they can see. The show is fairly short, and goes very quickly, but the length of the performance is just right for the three-plus age group for which it is intended. Adults will be just as mesmerised as the little ones though. It is very atmospheric, and is a magical experience. It also has some lovely touches of humour that appeal to young and old alike. I asked my young companion how many stars, out of five, we ought to award The Tear Thief. Without hesitation she replied "FIVE!" I must say I am in complete agreement.