Little Angel Youth Theatre - The Jabberwocky

Little Angel Youth Theatre: The Jabberwocky

Little Angel Youth Theatre - The JabberwockyDespite being a show performed by young people, this is a production presented within the main programme of the SUSPENSE adult puppetry festival and is in a sense a triple-distilled piece of theatre. It has been inspired by Steve Tiplady’s production for the Little Angel last year, but this itself was already a radical reworking of the version he created ten years earlier.

Always about a moment in childhood where parental protectiveness is necessarily rejected, in 2004 The Jabberwocky was a kind of epic sprawling quest. In 2014 the same fundamental narrative and characters delivered a tighter, richer, more dreamlike piece – with text memorably excised save the words of Carroll’s poem itself – one with a strong sense that the self-transformation engendered by the young protagonist leaving home, seeking out, and conquering the Jabberwock is as much an inner as an outer one.

The Little Angel Youth Theatre’s version, directed by Oliver Hymans, was made in response to this production and is now remounted for the theatre’s current Festival. It is clearly built around the same essential form of the later Little Angel show, and several of the puppet characters met on the journey are recognisable in essence. The action though is all their own; the young people have in a sense answered the peculiar devising challenges of the show based on a piece of nonsense verse for themselves, using their own materials and properties. The set – a collection of boards that can are rearranged to many purposes – and the puppets are their own, also, built very simply but still filled with life.

Indeed the puppetry throughout is of top quality, as might be expected form young people learning theatre-making in this building, and Hymans repeatedly makes a pleasing virtue of the fact that he has a much larger cast than any puppetry director could generally hope for by putting together excellent ensemble puppetry sequences. There’s a particularly memorable one where a creature is formed of a group of separate different-sized orange balls that swirl and reform in a range of configurations. It is also expertly and beautifully lit by Jason Vakharia, making the most of the Little Angel’s very puppet-friendly rig.

If there are quibbles, one is common both in youth theatre and devising more widely, and is the rather overly episodic nature of the piece; another (again familiar in young performers) – that rather accentuates the first – is the tendency to drop performance focus before episodes are quite over.

But the Little Angel should be proud of having what is clearly a committed group of skilled young performers, and of confidently programming them on an equal footing with the other companies in their flagship festival of puppetry for adults.

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About Darren East

Darren East is a theatre maker and puppeteer, co-founder of Unpacked Theatre Company, co-director of TouchedTheatre and recently co-founder of Third Hand, the UK's only dedicated puppetry and opera company, with whom he won the Off West End Award for Best Opera Production. He teaches regularly, including with the Brighton Puppetry School.