Recently, children’s puppetry company Little Angel Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrated the fact that both organisations were 50 years old by collaborating on a puppet version of The Tempest.
I didn’t see that show, sadly. So it was lovely to at least be able to see this sister project – also produced by Little Angel in association with the RSC – in which Michael Rosen creates a mini-sequel of sorts, for children aged 3 and above.
A young girl, Isabella, is having difficulty sleeping because of the howling thunderstorm that shows no sign of ending. In an attempt to get her to sleep, her mother Miranda tells a story from her youth, of how she and Prospero used to live on an island with the mystical creatures Caliban and Ariel.
As the tempest rages outside, Isabella finds herself whisked off to the “island of noises”, where she hopes to find Prospero’s magic staff that has the power to calm the storm outside her window. But it was broken in two, so she must find both pieces and reunite them…
As Isabella, Clare Rebekah Ponting does a great job of evoking the spirit of being a young child, now too big to be carried home by her mother. Lizzie Wort, who plays Miranda as well as, with Ponting, performing all the songs and puppetry in the show, is just as entertaining and helps captivate the youngsters in the audience.
But as you’d expect, it’s the puppets who endear themselves most readily. Again, I didn’t see Little Angel’s Tempest, which I believe was aimed at an older age range than this play, but I understand that the designs of Caliban and Ariel are carried through, albeit at different scales. Caliban here is a gentle, kindly, soul who just wants to be left alone to eat his truffles, but is also tempted by the fruity fruits on Ariel’s tree. Ariel himself is a spikier spirit in both build and voice who has recovered one half of Prospero’s staff, unaware that it is powerless without the other half.
Isabella’s time on the island feels very short, which in a way it is – within the 45-minute show, there’s a substantial prologue in Isabella’s bedroom, matched by a shorter coda after she has safely returned. Nor is there very much in the way of incident. But it’s a dreamlike tale of wonder, and as with much of Michael Rosen’s work that I enjoyed myself so much as a child, it’s not about what happens on the journey as much as the joys of the journey itself.
Some sweet little songs – devised by Lizzie Wort and the company – only help to add to the charm of this short piece. An interesting and delightful work for the RSC to put their name to.