A VERY OLD MAN WITH ENORMOUS WINGS
by Anna Maria Murphy.
Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) Lavender Hill SW11 5TN To 19 January.
2pm matinees, 7pm eves
TICKETS: 0207 223 2223.
then Tour to 9 March 2013.
Runs: 1hr 30min One interval.
Review: Carole Woddis of 5 January.
Aimed at 6 years and upwards, there is something here for everyone.
Puppets and puppetry are enjoying a golden period at the moment. You can’t avoid them even to the extent of them becoming a bit of a cliché. But BAC and Islington’s Little Angel have long been their crusaders and champions, so for them to join forces with Kneehigh promised something rather special.
Directed by Kneehigh founder, Mike Shepherd with Little Angel doyenne, Lyndie Wright, A Very Old Man, based on a short story by Gabriel Garciá Márquez, turns out to be a delightful excursion into the realms of heart-touching fantasy, beautifully re-imagined and executed.
Quite why it is that wooden beings exert such a pull on the imagination remains – to me, at least – something of a mystery. Even more so here since interestingly, Shepherd and Wright choose to have their puppeteers operate more of less in full view of the audience. Somehow it doesn’t detract entirely from the magic although now and again it does impinge on a total suspension of disbelief.
But such is the artistry at work, the atmosphere conjured through Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting and Ian Ross and Benji Bower’s sensitive, evocative soundscape, the fairy-tale quality is soon restored.
And Marquez’s story certainly carries charm – a parable of greed and gullibility – with, coming from South America, a quiet little dig at Catholicism. Little Angel’s craftswomen and men have created a wonderful, resonantly Christ-like figure of the old Man who crashes into a small community; he harbours intimidatingly large, fluttering wings, seems to breathe almost imperceptibly and when he sings sounds like a doleful Scandinavian or Germanic wanderer.
Set in a coastal town, reminiscent for Shepherd of his native Cornwall, it’s peopled by crustaceans and vividly defined characters as the tale unfolds of villagers who swing from suspicion to commercial exploitation, urged on by the local priest.
Ultimately, the magic lies in the detail; chickens who peck, the dog who cocks his leg, the development of relationships and finally the vision of a small boy who helps him and the Old Man who flies. In the puppet world, everything is possible.
Puppeteers: Sarah Wright, Roger Lade, Avye Leventis, Rachel Leonard.
Director: Mike Shepherd.
Designer: Lyndie Wright.
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth.
Music: Ian Ross, Benji Bower.
Puppet Director: Sarah Wright.
Assistant director: Daisy Beattie.