It’s very exciting time for the Little Angel Theatre, celebrating 60 years since its opening. Next door, in the workshop, they have a fabulous exhibition of all the magical marionettes used across the decades, each one a work of art, each with a story in its own right. Against this backdrop, and just as the Christmas lights are starting to twinkle, the theatre has chosen to present There May Be a Castle. There is a spoiler declaration on the marketing material which declares that the play deals with child bereavement; it is certaintly something to be aware of when choosing a Christmas show for the family.
Based on the book by Piers Torday, it is the story of a family who experience a car crash. One of the children, Mouse (Stacey Read), goes missing in the event, and we follow her somewhat surreal and hallucinatory experience as she imagines she is looking for shelter. Meanwhile, a second storyline addresses what is happening in real life to the rest of the family, and the whole engages with ideas of love and belonging.
This is a beautifully crafted production, with exquisite set and video design from Ellie Mills and Libby Ward that effectively contrasts the wintry atmosphere of the family’s plight with the colourful imaginary world that Mouse explores. The experiences are defined further by sympathetic lighting from Sherry Coenen. The talented cast switch between acting as traumatised family members and operating puppets that are exaggerated figments of Mouse’s imagination. These draw on characteristics of her loved ones, so that in effect the family and their care are travelling with her on the journey, offering reassurance. They are beautifully made yet strange, including a giant purple horse, a magnificent t-rex and a quirky humanette jester. Much of the show is a musical quest as Mouse seeks safety – the imagined castle in the title, and it is nicely entertaining, whilst a little weird.
The cast and the puppets are all very likeable, with a number of laughs alongside delightful feel-good songs, even though the main theme is child bereavement. A key and very effective moment occurs when Mouse walks through a graveyard, identifying that the skulls once belonged to people, normalising the idea of death.
The difficulty for me comes with the timing at the end of the play. Having enjoyed Mouse’s adventure, she suddenly flatlines and the family are left silently screaming, it seems really peculiar to almost instantly be clapping and singing as her character passes into death. The intention is clearly to suggest a coping mechanism of an imagined, beautiful afterlife to uplift the spirit, and in the bereavement process there is definitely a space for this, but the action moves on so swiftly that there is barely a moment to identify that shock and real grief are a very valid part of the process. I was left feeling a little taken aback as we rushed into the conclusion.
This is a beautifully made production, with an excellent cast and some very entertaining component parts. It offers an interesting base from which to discuss ideas of bereavement, but if you are choosing it for your Christmas show be certain that you are aware of its theme.
Based on the book by Piers Torday
Adapted by Barb Jungr and Samantha Lane
Directed by Samantha Lane
Music and lyrics by Barb Jungr
Puppets designed by Judith Hope
Set and costumes designed by Ellie Mills
Lighting designed by Sherry Coenen
There May be a Castle plays at Little Angel Theatre until 23 January. Further information and booking via the below link.