Review – The Tempest – Little Angel Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company at Little Angel Theatre

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When the Little Angel Theater Twitter feed covered their work with the Royal Shakespeare Company in producing a child-friendly version of The Tempest, I pretty much ignored it – I don’t really like kid’s shows and I’m not one to travel to see shows (kiddy play, Stratford, whatever). However, my attitude changed when I saw that this show was being brought to London for presentation at the Little Angel’s home venue. I had really dismissed the show as being a throwaway to satisfy parents eager to entertain their tots (or a theater trying to prove it “reaches out” to their non-core audience), but the fact that the Little Angel thought it was good enough to put on their regular season made me think that maybe it was worth checking out and not just a case of them providing a bit of advice on “here’s how we do it.” Little A brings high production values to their shows, and, well, I had guests coming from out of town who needed entertainment on a Sunday night (as it happens the only time I could see it) and it was just opening … so I rolled the dice, bought three tickets, and took two Americans to see a puppet show on their one and only night of London theater.

I’m so glad I trusted my impulses and that they all worked together to encourage me to get tickets for this show. As it turns out, this was a full-blown coproduction of Little Angel and the Royal Shakespeare Company – it was not a “puppet” version of The Tempest (like I’d thought, and which my guests might not have liked), but a production in which two characters are done as puppets and all the rest performed by the tip-top actors of the RSC who are also manipulating puppets – and providing musical accompaniment, both sung and played. Really, I was quite impressed by what performing powerhouses these people were!

The two puppet characters in this show were Ariel and Caliban, which were actually great choices to portray in this way. Ariel was a tiny fairy, about 1 1/2 feet tall, who leaps and flies and stands on Prospero and generally behaves in ways you just couldn’t have done with an actual human actor. I pretty much ignored the person (people) who was (were) manipulating and speaking for Ariel and just focused on the puppet – a sign that the puppeteer actor people were doing a really good job! Caliban, meanwhile, was a big, squat puppet monster (seen in the production photos), and could possibly have been just as well done as a human – but I enjoyed his otherworldly qualities. In fact, with these two puppets, the world of magic that is at the heart of The Tempest came alive for me for the first time ever in a way that all-human productions just hadn’t managed to do. Prospero was a magician cavorting with spirits summoned from his books, and not just a human ruling over other humans of greater or lesser talents.

I was also just amazed by the quality of the acting, which was so much more powerful for being in a small space (Little A seats about 100 or so) – it was full-quality Shakespearean actors basically two feet away from you and really going for it. And the songs (which frequently form a part of the puppet shows here, and which I usually don’t care for) were well made, beautifully harmonized, and accompanied by some solid flute/violin/accordion (etc.) – and they added to the magical atmosphere. Ultimately, my complaints boiled down to “the love song was too soppy” and “Prospero’s brother looked like an escapee from Black Adder with his awful wig.” Really, I just thought the whole thing was great, I was completely sucked up from about minute two, and at the end I thought, “My God, did I really just pay 12 quid for that amazing show? This is what living in a country that provides real support for the arts means.” Which is what I told my visiting American friends, basically, that we see shows like this just by accident on our way home from buying groceries. But it’s not true; this show is actually very, very good. I’d say buy your ticket immediately if you’re thinking about it, because once the word gets out, there won’t be any more left.

(This review is for the 7PM show that took place on Sunday, April 10th, 2011. It continues through May 15th.)

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2 Responses to “Review – The Tempest – Little Angel Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company at Little Angel Theatre”

  1. A year in blogging – Webcowgirl’s most popular posts of 2011 – and tips for improving your blog stats « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] it’s a show that I think really has special merit (Little Angel Theatre’s remarkable Tempest comes to mind); and when I walk out of a show it’s because I’ve lost my life to live in […]

  2. Mini-review – Macbeth – Little Angel Puppet Theater | Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl's London theatre reviews Says:

    […] of my favorite Shakespearean plays, peformed in a format I enjoy a lot – the puppet show. The puppet Tempest I saw at the Little Angel two years before was genius, and I hoped for much of the same from this […]

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