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Handa's Surprise

Interview: Prepare for a Surprise

Author Eileen Browne on bringing Handa’s Surprise to Little Angel Theatre

Handa’s Surprise is a modern classic children’s book, named one of the best culturally diverse picture books in the UK. The story takes us to Kenya, following in Handa’s footsteps as she journeys to see her best friend Akeyo, in the next village. Handa is taking seven delicious fruits as a surprise – but seven different animals have seven very different ideas… could you resist the sweet-smelling guava? How about a ripe red mango or a tangy purple passion fruit?

The story is now being transferred to the stage, so it was our delight to spend time with the book’s author, Eileen Browne, to find out why this story is still one children love, and just what to expect when it gits the stage.

This stage production of Handa’s Surprise is based on a book that’s still a best seller nearly 30 years after its first publication. What is it about the tale that children love? 

Well, the book is visually vibrant. The cover shows a girl carrying a luscious bowl of fruit and there’s a hint that something’s about to happen – an ostrich in the background is keenly looking on. But most of all, the words tell one story and the pictures tell another. Children can see what’s happening when Handa can’t.

After all this time in the pandemic with its travel restrictions it’s fabulous to be immersed in the incredible colours and imagery of another country! Can you tell us a bit about Handa, and her life in Africa?

Yes, it is lovely to be taken to other places during these restrictive times. The story is set somewhere very different to the places that most readers will be living. Handa is a made-up but well researched character. Two women from London’s Kenya Tourist office gave invaluable advice about hairstyles and  lifestyles of girls living in the countryside of South-West Kenya.

The original picture book is beautifully illustrated. What are you looking forward to most about seeing them brought to life from page to stage? 

It’s good to hear that you like the illustrations. The Little Angel’s production has captured the warmth and vibrancy of the pictures and given it extra dimensions with music and movement and an exciting variety of puppetry.

What are the main themes raised in the story, and are they likely to open up conversations for the audience? 

This is a story about friendship, a journey and the unexpected. It shows that when bad things happen, really good things can happen too and the characters, readers and audience all get a lovely surprise. As with the book, the onlookers will have lots to talk about.

What other fun things are included in the production? 

The interaction of the actors with their very young audience is wonderful.

What do you hope your audiences will take from the show? 

As well as ‘travelling’ to another place, hopefully the audience will leave feeling more cheerful than they did when they arrived.

Is this production going to be touring elsewhere?

Yes, Handa’s Surprise will be on at Little Angel Studios from 9 February – 16 April before heading out on tour in the Spring.

Thanks to Eileen for taking the time to chat with us. Handa’s Surprise is on now at Little Angel Theatre, playing until 16 April. Further information and booking via the below link.

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