I admit, I was sceptical going into this show at The Little Angel Theatre. Come on – how can you make a play about a subject as depressing as environmental destruction that is fun for children? But I was so wrong! This totally enchanting production of There’s a Rang-Tan in my Bedroom & Other Stories impressively achieves the seemingly unachievable. It offers tremendous fun and creative possibility to a family audience, but also empowerment to create positive change.
Inspired by the Greenpeace campaign films There’s a Rang-Tan in My Bedroom and There’s a Monster in My Kitchen written by James Sellick, the story tells how an everyday little girl unexpectedly meets a series of creatures in her house, disrupting her world and causing her to question why they are there in the first place. Using rhymed storytelling, each tells her there’s a human in their own home, making it uninhabitable, so they have come to live with her. Sharing space with these new friends we see their problems, and learn about the terrible results of human abuses of nature. She promises to find a way to help them, and encourages the audience to join her.
This is a superbly crafted show in every sense. The puppets of Jaguar, Turtle and Rang-Tan, inventively designed by Maia Kirkman-Richards, are stunningly beautiful, and are characterised with enormous energy and sensitivity by Ajjaz Awad and Aya Nakamura. You can’t help but love them as they ‘naughtily’ invade the fridge, pop up from the toilet, and mess up the bedroom, and the audience laugh out loud at their endearing, hilarious antics! But that makes it all the more poignant when we realise they are in this human home and not their normal habitat because they are endangered there – by us. The plastic bag covering turtle’s face is funny at first, but it soon becomes clear that it in reality it can hurt her. Even our shampoo and chocolate choices can injure our friends the animals.
The audience are very much a part of this narrative and don’t just sit quietly watching. Instead they become part of a world shared with nature. At one point they are breathtakingly invited underwater to experience the ocean for themselves, seeing the damage caused by plastics. Kate Bunce’s flexible set design creates a world of magical possibility and invention, enabling the next step of empowerment for our small spectators, where they must decide what to do next. The problems clearly explained, they are encouraged to leave their seats, to literally pick up the phone and hear the urgent call for help, before their voices are heard in creating solutions. No-one is too small to speak out and be active in changing the way the world works.
There are certainly dark parts to this story. It is incredibly moving when the rainforest is destroyed through the processing of dirty palm oil: Rang-Tan’s mum disappears leaving her baby frightened and alone. No punches are pulled in showing that economic transactions and big business are at the centre of the story. But impressively, the kids around me were asking questions about what they were seeing, engaging with it. And curiosity and challenge is what we want from our future leaders, right? Meanwhile, voiceovers from celebrities Emma Thompson, Doc Brown and Rag’n’Bone Man give weight to the message that it is OK to protest against what’s happening.
Come the end of the performance our young leader yells “Assemble every warrior!” and we are ready to take action! The cheering, smiling audience leaves triumphantly, prepared to battle injustice for their new friends beyond the theatre; understanding they can start by simply buying different soap, eating fewer burgers, or spreading the message on social media, but that their choice actually makes a difference.
Written by: James Sellick
Directed by: Maia Kirkman-Richards
Set and costumes designed by: Kate Bunce
Lighting designed by: Sherry Coenen
Puppets designed by: Maia Kirkman-Richards
Music composed and sound designed by: Dominic Sales
Creative Producer: Miranda Pitcher
There’s a Rang-Tan in my Bedroom & Other Stories plays at Little Angel Theatre until 7 November. Further information and booking via the below link.