THE AM-A-ZING THING
by Liz and Daniel Lempen.
Little Angel Theatre 14 Dagmar Passage N1 2DN To 19 July 2015.
Runs 1hr No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 July.
Finely-told tales that tell their own story.
In the two shows they have briefly brought to Islington’s Little Angel Theatre, Lempen Puppet Theatre show different ways of making familiar stories new. In Little Frankenstein it’s the combination of medieval Romance with the sci-fi fantasy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In The Amazing Thing (properly, spelled-out as above to give the sense of something really impressive) it’s the idea of traditional folk-tales having a life of their own.
Peter Grimm, modern descendent of the brothers who famously collected traditional stories, finds a box washed-up, and in it an Amazing Thing – a mermaid-like figure from their time. A fairytale character herself, she’s caught by her hair in the wooden box and asks to be freed.
Back in his ancestors’ day, it seems she was a bit of a nuisance, wanting to tell tales her own way. The discovery leads to re-angled accounts of Red Riding Hood, the Princess and the Frog plus – using that long hair trapped in the woodwork – Rapunzel.
A happy humour’s caught from the moment Peter enters playing the harmonica – and there’s dexterity with the puppets, as with the wooden box which transforms into sections of a tower. The piece never loses its simple story interest (even at an ‘all ages’ performance, when the usual lower age limit of 5 was abandoned, attention levels remained high).
Then there’s the fun of an argument, the ‘Amazing Thing’ in the box being a quietly disruptive element – the child who asks why, or wants the story different, contrasting the adult storyteller who ‘knows’ he knows best but only knows what he knows.
It brings to life the contrast between the adult, for whom the story is fixed, remembered from childhood, and the young person for whom it’s a living experience, to be shaped, questioned and reconsidered.
If the Amazing Thing was marooned for such responses, her re-appearance indicates that stories are dynamic things that can bring new life to the familiar. Skilfully-performed, happy and welcoming in manner, this piece is rare in examining the malleability of stories, which can’t be laid to rest in boxes or in books.
Peter Grimm: Daniel Lempen.
Director: Caroline Astell-Burt.
Puppets: Liz Lempen.
Music: Daniel Lempen.