Last week a dream of mine came true. I got to perform, as a puppeteer, at Little Angel Theatre. With a wonderful audience including fellow puppeteers and friends as well as other theatre-lovers, it couldn’t have been a more perfect evening.
After taking the show to Brighton Fringe two weeks before, this was our second performance of Vertebra Theatre’s ‘Dark Matter’, with Douglas Rutter on the head and left hand, Aurora Adams on torso and right hand, and me on the feet (and on the head for two scenes where Alfie is a young boy again). Since the previous show we had gone back to the rehearsal room to iron out a few bits of the movement and choreography, and we approached this performance with renewed vigour and excitement. Knowing we had our friends, family and peers out in the audience added to the pre-show tingles.
Our venue, Little Angel Theatre, is a very special place to the puppetry community. Transformed from a derelict temperance hall into a theatre by John Wright and a troupe of puppeteers, Little Angel Theatre opened in 1961, and since then it has produced countless puppetry shows and served as a source of inspiration and training for puppeteers from all over the world. In 2014 the company opened Little Angel Studios, just up the road from the main theatre, which is where they run their courses and workshops, and where I did the Puppetry Foundation Course last year.
Arriving at the theatre, we headed backstage to suss out the space. Beautiful wooden marionettes hung down above our heads – it was such a delight to see these very special puppets, as well as the marionette bridges constructed for long-string marionette shows. With it being a hot day the back door was open, and we could poke our heads out and peek into the workshop next door. I felt like a kid who’d snuck into Santa’s workshop!
The show, which started at 7pm, went really well, despite me nearly stacking it as I clambered onto the stage in a deep squat behind Alfie (the puppet, whose feet I was animating at that point). Thankfully no-one seemed to notice (apart from my fellow puppeteers), or at least, they had the good grace not to laugh. I could certainly feel those hamstrings the next day! After the show everyone mingled and chatted outside before a group of us headed to a nearby pub for a well-earned beer and some grub. As we were striking the set I saw Ronnie Le Drew, a lovely man with years of experience as a puppeteer who taught us for a few of the foundation course sessions, and went up to give him a big hug – how special to have him there supporting us. There were also other puppetry companies in the audience, including Smoking Apples, and it made me realise how supportive a community this is.
That night, as I drifted off to sleep, an aubergine and halloumi burger in my belly and a smile on my face, I knew that I would remember the experience of performing at Little Angel for a long time to come.