A VERY OLD MAN WITH ENORMOUS WINGS
by Annamaria Murphy.
Little Angel Theatre 14 Dagmar Passage N1 2DN To 29 January 2012.
Runs 1hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7226 1787.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 December.
A very fine show with enormous implications.
Probably in a small minority of shows this Christmas based on a Gabriel Garcia Márquez story, this is a distinctive fusion of two individual theatre companies. At home, is the Little Angel Theatre, a puppet operation of depth and distinction, where puppetry always finds skilled, poetic expression. Playing away, there’s Kneehigh Theatre, now international stars, but here – thankfully – reverting to the distinctive flavour of their Cornish origins.
It ought to be good, and it is. Intended for 6+, the story and its telling hold adult attention alongside an accessibility for young people. Márquez’s story provides the magical realism that puppets are fitted to express – it’s their nature to be both pieces of material and expressive of living minds and emotions – with marvellous happenings occurring as if normal.
So when the title character appears everyone wonders about his significance, until they have him tied down as an angel – a plague of crabs, first seen slithering over the set, vanishes; a sick boy gets well very soon. But then the Old Man becomes a property. Passive throughout, his presence defines the community around.
Kneehigh’s contribution, in writer Annamaria Murphy and director Mike Shepherd, localises the coastal setting to Cornwall; grey and rundown, the village acquires cosmetic seaside brightness, with cream teas and bunting, when locals realise their visitor’s a commercial asset they can charge to see.
Local excitement builds around the planned visit of an eminent churchman (a Marquez Colombian element). The stage is spread with cakes and varieties of crab-based food, while the Old Man, released from the beach netting where they’ve kept him, is stuck, almost as if crucified, against a wall – irrelevant until he’s put on show.
The busy adults, building up their own importance, are recognisably English (or Cornish), with only the cured boy showing genuine interest in the visitor. When all goes awry, he’s granted, and reflected in, the final angelic vision.
It’s a fine ending, the fidgeting rustling of the Old Man’s wings in captivity transformed as he flies free, announcing the final spectacle in the sky that only a boy has hung around to witness.
Puppeteers: Ruth Calkin, Roger Lade, Rachel Leonard, Sarah Wright.
Director: Mike Shepherd.
Designer: Lyndie Wright.
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth.
Music: Ian Ross, Benji Bower.
Puppetry direction: Sarah Wright.