Review – Fantastic Mr Fox – Little Angel Theatre

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Regular readers of my blog (both of you) will know that I’m a puppet theater fan. My enthusiasm started when I was in Seattle and went to the Northwest Puppet Theater regularly; they launched a series of Baroque puppet operas while I was there, which I adored and now miss horribly. I also like Japanese bunraku and kuruma ningyo style puppetry, and my trips to Sicily have been greatly enlivened by the Catanian/Syracusan and Palmiterian “teatro de pupi.”

At any rate, puppets. I love ’em. And I was pleased to have an opportunity to review the Little Angel Theater’s Fantastic Mr. Fox last Sunday – Little Angel is the only puppet theater I know of in London, and they have a solid season packed with lots of new works. I’d only been there once before, but … Roald Dahl, told with puppets? I didn’t know the story, but I wanted to go anyway, and I was able to convince a friend of mine to lend me her six year old daughter, Holly, so I could get the real skinny from the target audience.

WELL this all went very interestingly as my guest did not understand some basic rules of theater going, such as “do not touch the actors,” “do not play on the set, even if it’s the interval,” and “do not run down the aisle when the show is in progress” (which is especially important as the puppets do scenes from within the aisles, thus meaning they must be kept clear for even more than just fire code reasons). But the staff handled it with aplomb, especially the actor manipulating Mrs Fox, who nodded at and interacted with my companion in a way that shot her to the moon.

My thoughts were that the dialogue for the first half of the show was particularly hard to understand; the three farmers just didn’t project well. And the story … well, it was very odd! I guess (as another friend of mine pointed out) adapting a tale so based on digging was a bit of a challenge; I think the way the set morphed to show the changes to the foxes’ dwelling (as they dug and were dug at) was very innovative. I was also quite amused by the ending (as I didn’t know the story), in which Mr Fox appeared to set up a socialist utopia for the animals; perhaps he will only reappear when the final ghost of Maggie Thatcher leaves this earth (no chance under this administration then).

I was sorry, though, that except for my interpretation of the final message, this play didn’t really go for the sly insertion of adult-level improvised jokes that really enlivened the Northwest Puppet Theater’s works; this play was very straight and (in my eyes) very much aimed straight at its elementary school audience and less so at their parents (though I did enjoy the artistry of the puppets themselves). With that in mind, let’s see Holly’s review of the show: “I watched Fantastic Mr Fox and it was great. It was so fun! There were so many puppets. There was badgers, rabbits, weasels, moles and foxes. So I want to go there again soon!”

That’s it then: the jokes that sail over the heads of six year olds were not missed and those who the show was meant for found it, dare I say, “Fantastic” (though I have my doubts about the wisdom of having an interval when out with those of a limited attention span). And there’s no doubt I’ll be back again in November for Alice in Wonderland; Little Angel is a real treasure and we’re lucky to have them here.

(This review is for the 2:30 performance that took place on Sunday, September 19th, 2010. The show continues through November 7th; see web site for show times, and note that it is not recommended for those four years old or younger.)

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