On a wet and windy weekend, what better to do than escape for a little while to sunny Kenya to hang out with Handa and her friend Akeyo? The book “Handa’s Surprise” will be familiar to most parents of preschoolers but this was a live action version which brought what was essentially a very slight tale to life. It’s staged at the Little Angel Studios (not the theatre) and the informal setting means that the audience can sit on cushions at stage level and be really involved in the show. I think there were chairs for anyone who had problems in getting down to the floor but it’s probably best to make Little Angel aware of any mobility needs when booking.
I should say that I don’t necessarily have the right age of child for this show. It’s very much in the preschool bracket (ages 2-5) and my youngest is Year 5, rather than age 5 but still…she enjoyed it. She’s not good with any kind of peril so shows aimed at younger kids work well for her. She also likes both animals and fruit, so that was a good basis for this show.
We were shown to our places group by group. We left our shoes and coats by the door and were given a spot on the long cushions that went round three sides of the performance area. As everyone was getting settled in, music was playing and Akeyo (Rujenne Green) was moving around the stage, sweeping the floor. Handa (Hannah Akhalu) was sitting in the middle stage, smiling at us all and clearly enjoying the music. For any littlies that were a bit anxious, it was a lovely reassuring atmosphere to come into.
The story, if you don’t know it, is very straightforward. Handa tries to take a basket of fruit to her friend Akeyo’s village but the fruit is stolen by animals along the way. Eva’s been obsessing about mango all weekend and polished off a bag of dried mango just before the show started so she was practically drooling at the sight of the ripe, red mango. The performers passed each fruit round the audience so the kids could touch and see the fruits close up….but then give them back so that they could be used in the story. Eva got to handle the pineapple but it was probably just as well she wasn’t given the mango otherwise she might have just had a nibble on it.
The story is told through some small bits of narration, some action and repeated musical motifs. Eva was still singing “Handa…Akeyo” by the time we got to the bus stop, although it did start to evolve into “Panda K.O.”, a sad tale of panda wrestling defeats. But that was just one of the musical themes, with other snippets of song every time a piece of fruit was taken and a song around the different fruits as well. Both the actors had lovely singing voices and pitched perfectly, considering it was all a capella.
It was an unusual Little Angel production in that the human actors were central to the story, rather than the puppets but, being Little Angel, there were, of course, puppets as well. The animals were enacted in a variety of ways but Eva’s favourite was the giraffe:
“I hope it comes to us” she whispered in my ear as the giraffe loped around the stage. It did almost make it over to us but then got distracted by stealing fruit. The puppets all interacted like this – the monkey was shown round all three sides of the stage and some of the kids got to shake its paw. Again, this was unusual in just how up-close the puppetry was but it worked really well for the age of the audience.
At the end, everyone was offered a segment of satsuma and then invited to come onto the stage area for a dance. It was a lovely way to involve the whole room, in a show that was constantly looking to engage.
Both performers carried the piece off with huge amounts of charm and energy. As I mentioned before, the actual narrative is very simple (and look, I didn’t even spoiler what the surprise was!) but they teased a lot out of it. If you need an antidote to the stormy weather and the gloomy news then this sunny, optimistic story about fruit and friendship might be just what you’re looking for.
For tickets and more info, click here
Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own