Pros: Excellent storytelling and emotionally engaging for all.
Cons: Some of the technical duties carried out by the actors could have taken place off stage to suspend disbelief further.
With much anticipation we took our pew in the Little Angel Theatre for our first visit to the formerly derelict temperance hall. Transformed in 1961 by a troupe of enthusiastic puppeteers led by John Wright, a visit to this little theatre is like stepping back in time. Its magical atmosphere has clearly not been lost and it is lovingly run.
Equipped with tiered seating for productions, and with staging that is simplistic and economical, it still retains the charm of a village hall. For this production various instruments are dotted around; a hanging cloth screen for projections and a large sailing mast which overlooks three tiny giraffes caught in the spotlight, centrestage.
We had a very excitable young audience. They were talking, laughing and last minute snacking whilst crickets chirped all around us, but the moment the lights dimmed and three warm, smiling and serene actors appeared you could hear a pin drop. Transfixed, the children remained like this throughout, with no fidgeting or fuss.
The play by Sabrina Mahfouz – based on the book by Dianne Hofmeyr – is inspired by the true story of a giraffe and its keeper Atir. Sent as a diplomatic gift from the Great Pasha of Egypt to the King of France in the 1820s, we follow the various stages of the epic trip taken by these two companions. The pair are thrown through terrifying storms and encounter all sorts of nerve jangling creatures – and not to mention locals – before they arrive in France.
As they do eventually disembark in Marseilles they meet another friendly refugee and Atir asks why they’ve been met with such hostility by the locals. She explains that they don’t like someone who is different because they haven’t travelled very far from home themselves. Pretty powerful stuff for a children’s production. With messages like this communicated via a children’s show it’s a real positive inspiration for future generations.
The three performers are brilliant, especially with so many different parts to switch between. They flit between holding aloft a tiny giraffe figure to represent Zeraffa and some masterly manipulation of the beautiful Zeraffa puppet. The script is funny, heart warming, with an original score and gorgeous vocals. This is such a creative production with spellbinding surprises galore for the little ones, not to mention the wonderfully mature themes of difference and friendship.
The history of the transformation of this lovely theatre fills the whole building with a magical atmosphere. The memories of the thousands of children who have experienced its enchantment since the 1960s weighs heavy in every brick and the captivating storytelling continues in 2017. When you emerge from the Little Angel, make sure you take a peek through the open shutter next door for a glimpse of the puppet makers at work!
Writer: Sabrina Mahfouz (Based on the book by Dianne Hofmeyr and illustrated by Jane Ray)
Producers: An Omnibus Theatre and Little Angel Theatre co-production
Booking Until: 4 November 2017 at Little Angel Theatre, then 25 November to 17 December at Omnibus Theatre
Box Office: 020 7226 1787 (Little Angel) 0207 498 4699 (Omnibus)
Booking Link: https://littleangeltheatre.com/whats-on/september-whats-on/zeraffa-giraffa/