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There’s a Rang-Tan In My Bedroom and Other Stories

There’s a Rang-Tan In My Bedroom and Other Stories

This is a piece for 5-11 year olds with a loaded agenda. Its aim is to introduce children to the concept of habitat destruction and its relationship with big business and to suggest some things we could all do to help arrest it. It is, however, packaged with a lot of charm and artistry so that it still feels like a pretty decent piece of theatre for children – as we’ve long come to expect from Little Angel Theatre which is celebrating its 60th birthday this year.

A little girl finds a turtle in her bath and then an orang-u-tan in her bedroom. “There’s a rang-tan in my bedroom and I don’t know what to do” she says. We hear the orang-u-tan (voiced by Emma Thompson) and a jaguar says repeatedly “There are humans in my forest and I don’t know what to do. The turtle makes the same complaint about “my ocean”. Puppets sensitively operated by Ajjaz Awad and Aya Nakamura convey a real sense of vulnerability.

The 45-minute piece concludes with three suggestions drawn (sort of) from children in the audience: avoid palm oil, recycle and reuse as much as possible and eat less meat.

I especially liked the jaguar puppet which has huge feet and a nice stripey tail and the creation (design by Kate Bunce) of a minature domestic set including bed bath, lavatory and filled fridge all on moveable counter tops.

But the loudest cheer goes to the small boy who stood up at the end and declared that the palm oil industry must be stopped. “It destroys the environment and it isn’t good for you” he said.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

All Photos: Lidia Crisafulli

The second of the two summer repertory productions for children at Greenwich Theatre is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a much less well-known story than Pinocchio but posing just as many difficulties for writer and director. Joan Aiken’s novel has been adapted here by Russ Tunney, with a cast of 7 playing at least 16 characters, sometimes more than one at a time. This becomes something of a running joke (slyly signposted by the opening announcement) and it is this jokey tone that is the making of the piece, and at no detriment to the story.

Director James Haddrell keeps the action moving at all times and conjures up something of the feel of this dark and wintry novel, despite the colourful set elements which seemed at odds with the story. The set, which worked so well for Pinocchio, was largely unchanged apart from a few flats, and would have served the purpose well if the brightly coloured strip above the stage and the coloured flourishes above each arch were removed: the remaining track-like element and skeletal framework would have provided a much more appropriate background.

This was, however, my only reservation and as a newcomer to the book, I enjoyed the production as much as some of those around me who were clearly fans of the novel (including the initially sceptical young girl who took one look at the poster as she arrived at the theatre and announced that the windows in the house were the wrong shape…).

Alice De-Warrenne is a feisty Bonnie and Cassandra Hercules is appropriately restrained as Sylvia, a nice contrast to her very different performance in Pinocchio. Serin Ibrahim, in a trio of roles, provides much of the comedy, especially as the gormless Mr Grimshaw. Adam Karim does his best with the rather wet goose-boy Simon but is much more successful and amusing as the valiant James, helping to rescue the girls. David Haller contributes much in the way of musical accompaniment and songs, and his compositions greatly assist the narrative flow of the piece. The cheese alphabet song deserves to become something of a standard! Reice Weathers has to play even more roles than everyone else, but does so appropriately broadly and with a good sense of character (at one point even channeling Stanley Unwin, a name probably unknown to him).

Finally, in his element as Miss Slighcarp, Anthony Spargo commands the stage and provides much amusement for the adults in the audience as well as the children. As a regular pantomime performer on this stage, Spargo knows exactly how to get the best from his role but never at the expense of the other actors. In fact, his double act with Ibrahim’s Mr Grimshaw has the makings of an excellent baddie plus sidekick pairing in a future panto.

The play hurtled towards its conclusion with a satisfying group narrative and a reprise of “Once upon a time that never was.” Metatheatre for young children is quite a trick to pull off, but Greenwich have done it very successfully. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase deserves full houses and runs to 5 September, in repertoire with Pinocchio.

  • : admin
  • : 15/08/2021


All photos: Lidia Crisafulli

There is no shortage of stage, TV and film versions of Pinocchio although the story has never really entered British popular culture except perhaps in the Disney version. The most recent UK stage version used the Disney songs on the National Theatre’s Lyttleton stage, but failed to really make its mark.

Anthony Clark’s version, now to be seen at Greenwich Theatre, is much more successful, and all the better for concentrating on some key episodes and concepts. The original novel is long, rambling and quite dark in tone, but Clark knows that the key events to include are the boy/puppet transformation, the growing nose, and the journey to redemption through self-knowledge. James Haddrell’s production is sure-footed and moves rapidly, covering mainly the creation of Pinocchio, the puppet theatre and the relationship with the other children: episodes like the fox and the cat and being swallowed by the sea creature are included but only briefly. The young audience were quickly drawn in to the action by spotting how one child is cheating in the opening game, and they remained attentive throughout.

Design by Greenwich panto-regular Cleo Pettitt is a triumph, the costumes in particular working exceptionally well to create character and tell the story (although I was less convinced by the make-up). The set contains hints both of the fairground and the sea creature, with a structure that could be a roller coast track or a skeleton. No programme credit is given for the excellent puppets, so I am assuming Cleo Pettitt is responsible for those as well, not to mention the talking, moving log which grabbed the attention of the audience at the beginning.

The jolly songs composed by actor/musician David Haller help to move the story along, and he also contributes a number of strong cameo performances. An unusually low-key Anthony Spargo gives a heartfelt performance as a downcast Gepetto, but seems to be more in his element in a brief appearance as a tyrannical schoolmistress. Adam Karim as Volpino and Reice Weathers as Fellino command the stage as fox and cat, and interact well with the audience; although in this version they are only slightly villainous.

Alice De-Warrenne is a hard-working performer and almost manages to persuade this reviewer that adult actors playing little children need not always be excruciating. As Grillo, the cricket, Serin Ibraham is a confident puppeteer although not all of her lines are clear as she speaks very quickly. The cricket puppet, too, would benefit from eyes with a central point; the large blank circles tend to give a blind effect (apart from when they were lit up briefly). In the title role, Cassandra Hercules gets the audience on her side quickly and always convinces as a puppet brought to life.

Although story-telling is mostly secure, I didn’t realise they were in the sea creature until they escaped it from it and Pinocchio’s transformation to a real boy is very sudden; but there is an awful lot of story to fit in, even in this adaptation.

It was good to be back at Greenwich Theatre and that was a feeling obviously shared by many in the audience. Pinocchio runs to 5 Sep, in repertoire with the same cast in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and can be highly recommended as an excellent summer holiday outing with a strong moral element around friendship, saying sorry and being grateful.

  • : admin
  • : 15/08/2021
The Smartest Giant in Town

The Smartest Giant in Town

Julia Donaldson’s story (in case you’re not on story sharing terms with any tinies) tells of a scruffy giant who is furnished with smart new clothes which, step by step, he gives away to others in need. Thus, 45 minutes later he’s the kindest giant in town rather than the smartest.

This is a sweet and engaging account – as respectful both to Donaldson’s story and Axel Scheffler’s illustrations as it has to be because it’s probably familiar to every pre-schooler in the room.

Barb Jungr’s lilting, complementary music adds an extra dimension complete with harmonies nicely managed by Lizzie Wort, Gilbert Taylor and the giant Duane Gooden clad in a massive head-encompassing mask which must be very hot to work in.

The best song is cumulative and a causer of earworms thanks to the deceptive simplicity of Donaldson’s rhymes and Jungr’s near one note melody. I left singing “My tie’s a scarf for a cold giraffe”, “My belt helped a dog who was crossing a bog” and more.

Because this is a Little Angel production (in its relatively spacious, airy studio theatre rather than the main house) the puppetry is very charming. There’s a particularly appealing sequence with a family of mice whose house has burned down.

Wort and Gilbert both contribute excellent voice work and lots of smiles when they’re acting as human beings rather than puppeteers.