London International Mime Festival
The Little Angel Theatre is one of only five British puppet theatres who offer long-stringed marionette puppetry. It’s a rare and special thing. As part of the London Mime Festival the venue is hosting String Theatre‘s A Water Journey. This visually delightful story is magical for children, but clearly offers a message for adults too, about how we treat each other in times of climate change, the plight of refugees, and ultimately, how kindness can help create a better world.
The show takes place on a gorgeous set, lit to accentuate the natural splendour of the sea and sky. The storytelling is beautifully paced, so there’s time to take in what’s happening and become immersed in the atmosphere. It is a wordless tale, emotionally very engaging, told through the images of puppetry, and supported by a wonderful soundtrack.
An old man and his dog live in a hut by the sea, existing harmoniously with the water. One day a duck and her nest of eggs arrives, so the curious dog welcomes her and they become friends. When a terrible flood washes the eggs away, the dog and his man help the duck to save them. The dog also rescues a deer from the calamity, offering her protection in his home. Ultimately, the characters are forced to leave, floating away together on a raft, with no way of knowing if they’ll be safe. Fortunately there is a happy ending.
Marionettes are notoriously difficult to perform and it’s with astonishing dexterity that Soledad Zárate and Borbála Mező create these expressive characters. The playfulness of the animals – particularly the adorable ducklings – is absolutely joyous, causing the whole audience to chuckle and sigh with delight. It’s extraordinary to see the creatures seemingly pushing against imaginary floodwater, when logic tells you there’s no resistance there at all!
The puppets were commissioned especially for this production and are beautifully made. Carved from wood, they capture in their movement the very essence of the creatures represented; from the flap of a wing, to the flip of a fish and the wag of a tail. And it’s not only marionettes: there’s a wonderful, whimsical section that is projected as a shadow puppet animation, where the dog dreams of swimming underwater to rescue the lost egg.
Additional access features are offered, including audio description, and the production is complemented for d/Deaf and hard of hearing audiences by a projection of the soundscape above the stage. Visually echoing the water in the tale, the soundwave displayed also serves to enact the peril written into the musical score. It’s a clever way to interact differently with the soundtrack. The music itself does a fine job of creating atmosphere: Caribbean sunshine to begin, and later mild peril and thunderstorms, which are never so severe that things become distressing for the tinier audience members, who are captivated throughout, desperate to know what will happen next.
The story itself is wonderfully enchanting to watch, but offers important insight. At a time when people are attempting to flee adversity, risking their lives in small boats, it’s a moving moment when we recognise that the characters we’ve come to know have, by stepping on to a raft and heading off into the unknown, become refugees themselves.
In the post-show discussion Oliver Hymans, Artistic Associate at Little Angel, explained he’s supporting a campaign to define marionette performance as an endangered art. Watching this exquisitely crafted show with such vital contemporary content, it’s heartbreaking to imagine it could be lost due to human neglect, just as our environment has become damaged. Hats off to Little Angel and London Mime Festival for their support.
Produced by String Theatre
Director: Stan Middleton
Animation: Gary Cherrington
Light design: Marcin Miloszewski
Sound score: Jimmy Sheals
Scenography: Stan Middleton
Props: Sue Dacre, Amy Rowe, Jess Shead
A Water Journey plays at The Little Angel Theatre until Sunday 5 February. Further information and bookings can be found here.