Nestled in Islington, the Little Angel Theatre is at the forefront of puppet theatre in the country. One of the remits it has is to produce adaptations of popular children's books, which they then tour around the country. Tim Hopgood's WOW! Said the Owl follows in the footsteps of past adaptations, including We're Going on a Bear Hunt, The Journey Home and Dogs Don't Do Ballet.
WOW! Said the Owl tells the story of a curious owl who stays awake in order to experience the daytime for the first time, and in doing so discovers a new world of sights and sounds. The play is an explosion of light and colour, sound and music, evocatively demonstrating the beauty of the owl's surrounding. I found myself humming the song 'Yellow' from the score for many hours afterwards.
Our heroine, the owl, is charmingly portrayed by several puppets; from a small puppet that sits atop the performer's ukulele to a full-scale one that swoops with the puppeteer, even out into the auditorium. For me, it was the owl's introduction that most stood out - a silhouette of the moon turned into a pair of giant opening eyes. It was a warm and funny way to introduce her to the audience helping to pick up the show after a slow start.
WOW! Said the Owl is valiantly performed by Nix Wood who takes on all the roles of the piece as well as working the numerous wonderful contraptions of the ingeniously designed set. What initially appeared to just be a white box with the owl's nest in the middle actually contained many surprises that made the show come to life, from hidden xylophone keys to pouches for props to be sneakily pulled out of. It is in keeping with the entire design of the production, which evolves in front of the audience as the owl's day progresses and her environment changes. WOW! Said the Owl might be one of the most intricate productions I have seen in recent years, held together by Wood's charming performance.
This production is a beautiful piece of art, but it highlights a dilemma for children's theatre between being a work of art and being accessible for all audiences. The show comes together when there is audience participation but it is an element that the production too often holds back on, favouring proceedings being contained in the wonderful intricate set. It introduces some fabulous characters, like the morning sun and a grumpy cloud, yet often leaves these characters behind with no others to fill the space they leave. But maybe I am picking apart what is intended to be a simple half-an-hour introduction to theatre. After all my co-critic thoroughly enjoyed her first trip to the theatre, and the boy behind us was practically clambering over the back of our seats to get closer to the proceedings.
WOW! Said the Owl is a very good first theatrical experience, full of bold colour and toe-tapping music, carried off by a fantastic performance from its puppeteer. While at times it felt it could be more geared towards interacting with its audience, it was still a charming piece of puppet theatre.
I end my review on a note of thanks for both the Little Angel Theatre and the North Wall. This was my daughter's first trip to the theatre and they gave her just the right show to watch and a warm welcoming environment for this to happen in. It means a lot as a new parent to be able to introduce your child to the theatre, especially in the company of a charming, curious owl.