Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 6 December 2011

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

Little Angel Theatre ⋄ 19th November 2011 - 29th January 2012

Little Angel Theatre and Kneehigh join forces.

Julia Rank

The final production in Islington’s Little Angel Theatre’s 50th anniversary year, an adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magic realist short story A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, is something of a family affair. Little Angel matriarch Lyndie Wright provides the design, alongside daughter Sarah as puppet director (as well as performing) and film director son Joe ‘storyboarding.’ Joining forces are Kneehigh co-founder Mike Shepherd, with a script by Annamaria Murphy (also responsible for Kneehigh’s seminal The Red Shoes). It’s an ideal match as both are companies that show that whimsical doesn’t have to be a synonym for twee and are skilled at raising complex philosophical questions with delicacy and wit.

Our guide in this rainy, slate-coloured Cornish village with a crab infestation is a garrulous and acerbic elderly neighbour. A strange ‘chicken man’ crash lands in her midst; the sickly boy next door is restored back to health and the crabs return to the sea. This gnarled, scrawny figure with hair sprouting from his ears has a resemblance to E. Nesbit’s Psammead, another creature with the ability to grant wishes. Hailed as a saviour and a freak, an angel and a demon, he is tied up in the chicken coop by the cured boy’s mother and given potato peelings to eat. Despite appearing “without permission or proper papers” to earn the priest’s (who has the pinched pomposity of a Jane Austen clergyman) seal of approval, a series of ‘miracles’ charged at 5 ‘tups’ each attracts widespread media attention and the remote village becomes a gaudy tourist site attracting coaches full of American tourists (“the further they come, the more far-fetched their ailments”). Our narrator cashes in by opening her own tea shop.

The enchanting puppets themselves are village archetypes with a touch of the surreal about them. A parade of locals with quirky ailments (including Bernardo who “had his head turned by a woman”) find themselves cured and Mother dreams of using the money to buy a vacuum cleaner, which expands into fantasies of private jets and other luxuries. The melancholy atmosphere and religious allusions are undercut with cynicism – at the celebratory fete at which the ‘chicken man’ is pinned up like Christ on the cross, the inhabitants only really want the village to be formally blessed so that they can double their rates and, once they lose interest in one phenomenon, miracle hunters immediately move on to the next.

Accentuating the atmosphere is Ian Ross and Benji Bower’s Breton-tinged soundtrack, which melds wistful folk tunes with Gallic jazz. The four puppeteers, Rachel Leonard, Ruth Calkin, Sarah Wright and Roger Lade, seamlessly manipulate dozens of puppets of different styles and provide engaging voice work in a splendid testimony of the Little Angel’s proficiency in this field and the way in which, after 50 years, it has yet to exhaust its bag of tricks.

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Julia Rank

Julia is a Londoner who recently completed a MA in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck College. Resolutely living in the past until further notice, Julia finds enjoyment in exploring art galleries and museums, dabbling in foreign languages, rummaging in second hand bookshops, and cats.

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings Show Info


Produced by Little Angel Theatre/Kneehigh Theatre

Directed by Mike Shepherd

Written by Annamaria Murphy

Cast includes Rachel Leonard, Ruth Calkin, Roger Lade, Sarah Wright

Link http://www.littleangeltheatre.com/lat/

Running Time 1hr 35mins (including interval)

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