THE UGLY DUCKLING
by Hans Christian Andersen adapted by Violet Philpott.
Little Angel Theatre 14 Dagmar Passage N1 2DN To 8 July 2012.
Wed, Thu 10am & 1pm Fri 1pm & 5pm Sat, Sun 11am (baby friendly performance) & 2pm.
Runs 1hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7226 1787.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 June.
Gentle yet eventful and well-characterised story-telling.
Just into its second half-century, Islington’s Little Angel has built a stock of shows based on popular stories, involving puppets of many shapes and sizes, with various relationships to human operators. Here, there are no strings attached, no hands inserted, and a limited amount of rods involved.
Aptly for a tale with watery associations, the piece for 3+ might be set up for bath-time. This is puppets as soft toys, though made with unusual skill and details. And telling a story of hard knocks.
While Duckling, when he appears late from his large egg, is treated with dutiful maternal kindness, there’s no mistaking the ready way his seeming siblings quack along without him to the water, taking to it happily like – well, ducks.
A shiny disc provides a sense of marine travel as days, then seasons, pass. Venturing out increases risks, yet brings help from a Blackbird which provides encouragement and assistance along the way. There’s humour – a toad, another possible example of ugliness, has a sanguine view of life, cheering Duckling. But danger remains as Duckling almost takes off with geese who are soon shot down (out of sight) by hunters’ rifles.
A greater, certainly longer-lasting, peril is winter, though this dangerous ebb ends in Duckling finding his true nature. After his lonely first year, which arose not so much from outright hostility as an uneasy awareness he did not fit naturally in, Duckling can’t believe his luck. He sees swans gracefully passing, and is so admiring he doesn’t for some time realise he has become one of these handsome creatures, believing his reflection in the water that’s signalled only problems so far must be a different creature.
Seasoned Angel puppeteers Mandy Travis and Jonathan Storey handle the various creatures and their voices with sympathetic expertise. The puppets, by the theatre’s co-founder Lyndie Wright and Gerry Spiller, are colourful and characterful, while creating a natural environment.
It’s a story in which the last becomes the first, and where the ducks continue their lives the following year as new eggs hatch. That’s life, and it’s beautifully depicted in this show.
Performers: Mandy Travis, Jonathan Storey.
Director: Christopher Leith.
Designers/Puppets: Lyndie Wright, Gerry Spiller.
Lighting: David Duffy.
Composer: Sarah Godfarb.