Since I moved to London I’ve enjoyed all kinds of theatre, and I’ve discovered a love for puppetry, which most certainly is not just for children. One of the major proponents of puppetry in the UK is the Little Angel Theatre in Islington, founded 55 years ago and still thriving.
I discovered that the theatre were holding an evening event called London’s Hidden Gem, involving a talk and a tour of the theatre, so I booked a ticket (drawn in also by the prospect of wine). The theatre foyer is warm and inviting, decorated with puppets from previous productions, I had fun sipping my wine, trying to work out where the puppets were from, and chatting to the friendly staff.
The auditorium is still the same one that was used all those years ago, and the seats are original, albeit reupholstered. The talk was delivered by Ronnie le Drew, one of the earliest apprentices at the theatre, who has been here since 1963, and who has also enjoyed a film and TV career. When he said he worked on Labyrinth, I had to suppress a fangirl squeal of delight, as this 1986 classic is one of my favourite films.
He talked about the history of the theatre, which was founded by John Wright, as well as showing us some fascinating archive footage of the theatre being built on the site of a derelict temperance hall. There were also clips of a 1960s BBC show demonstrating the theatre in action, with laughing schoolchildren enjoying a show, and the construction of puppets (which can take around three weeks to make).
Ronnie told us about the different kinds of puppets, including marionettes, shadow puppets and glove puppets, illustrating his descriptions with examples of those selfsame puppets, bringing them to life in front of our eyes. My favourite was the Dodo, with his warm pink blanket.
Afterwards we got to go backstage, past the original proscenium arch to where the dressing rooms, lighting, scenery and puppets are located. Puppets might be smaller than humans, but you still need enough space for the puppeteers, particularly when they are operating marionettes and need to be able to get past one another on the bridge. Assorted puppets hang from the ceiling: I imagine this might be quite spooky at night. I recognised a couple from Jabberwocky, a production I saw.
The final part of the tour was also the most hands on: we got to go into the workshop and have a go with various puppets ourselves, including an adorable little dog. The theatre runs courses for adults on puppetry, and it’s something that is on my bucket list to do one day.
The theatre hopes to run these events again in the future. I had a lovely time and would definitely encourage going. They are designed for adults, but there was one little girl in our group accompanying her parents who seemed to be having just as much fun as the rest of us. I hope the theatre runs events like this again – they are really worthwhile.