The studio space at the Little Angel Theatre is intimate and friendly, ideal for little people to bring their families without getting overwhelmed, especially if they haven’t been out much for a while. For The Wishing Tree its stage is filled with a set that suggests a tower block in a rundown estate. The audience looks in through a fractured gap, connecting the stinky, overflowing bins outside with a vivid green background in the distance. It’s here that we meet Ben, a young boy who has recently had to move to the estate so knows no-one apart from his mum and step-dad. His life too has been fractured; by his parents splitting up, leaving his friends behind – and this during the pandemic. It’s a situation that’s probably familiar to many children out there.
When Ben’s favourite tree on the estate is cut down, it reveals a tree sprite who makes friends with him. Green sends him on a quest to save her wishing tree by visiting the other trees in the area. Ben shows kindness to a friend in need, and bravely sets off into the unknown, seeking the natural world in his grubby urban environment.
With hints of Alice in Wonderland absurdity, Joseph Coelho’s gently enchanting story does a great job of bringing together contemporary life and a mysterious, magical world, introducing us to characters that highlight different behaviours – playing, seeing, listening, stillness and wishing. Oliver Hymans’ ingenious, layered set design enables the narrative to explore the small space really effectively, hiding cleverly constructed puppets that seem to draw organically from materials in the environment. The horrible grub of Seeing is a bit scary, putting a human face on destructive visions of the world, so it’s good that he ends up in the bin. But Green is beautifully floaty, and Ben’s twinkling eyes are kind, making an everyday kid really special. Together they invite the audience to be part of a magical friendship.
Bold and upbeat performances by Chris Nyak and Nadia Shash are fun; really bringing the puppets to life across diverse characters, whilst Elliot Mann and Kacper Slowik’s soundscape of various styles of music, urban and natural sounds works well in transporting us across different spaces and cultures. Within this, hearing voices of local children expressing their worries, and hopes for the future is not just touching but makes the whole piece genuinely accessible, offering questions which the audience might also like to explore answers to.
It’s the perfect time for this story, as we emerge from the Covid crisis, which has given us a moment to pause and re-evaluate our place in the natural world and the future for our young people. Ben is a new type of neighbourhood watch on the global estate, seeking new friends who can help each other out through skills we all have – playfulness, listening and attention; offering a different, caring world for mankind and hope through creative thinking. It’s fun to join him in this! Look out for a series of lovely wishing tree sculptures on display at the venue, along with artwork from local schools. If you’re quick, you can also book in to post-show workshops.
Written by: Joseph Coelho
Directed and designed by: Oliver Hymans
Puppets designed by: Peter Morton
Puppet costumes by: Katie Underhay
Sound design by: Elliot Mann and Kacper Slowik
The Wishing Tree is recommended for children ages 5 – 11. The show plays at Little Angel Theatre until 26 September. Further information and booking via the below link.