“The Dong With a Luminous Nose” at Little Angel Theatre – 22/09/19

We’ve been to the Little Angel Theatre quite a few times now – more than I can count anyway. It always feels like a bit of a hidden gem, down the leafy passageway from Cross Street, and it’s an intimate performing space which means that the audience can feel very close to the action. Most of the shows we’ve seen there have been aimed at the 3-7 market and have been charming but fairly straightforward stories. This was our first foray into Little Angel’s more grown up productions (aged 7-adult) and it was an abstract, wordless piece based loosely on an Edward Lear poem.

It certainly was darker than the shows for younger kids – quite literally at times, as the whole stage was plunged into total darkness near the beginning and then a single light shone out, marking the first appearance of the eponymous Dong. The themes of the show were fairly dark as well though – abandonment, loss, loneliness – and it was a bit much for my very sensitive girl, who said she felt sad as soon as Edward’s parents sailed away, leaving him alone on a chair overlooking the sea. She perked up a bit at the first mention of “The Jumblies” because she’d read a poem about them at school but Edward’s sadness never completely left him and I think Eva was having a bit of an empathy overflow with him.

Which is a shame because there’s much to enjoy about the show – the way that the score and the movement of the puppets blended together perfectly and the way that the abstract shapes looked almost human-like in their movement but still fantastical. The much younger child behind us seemed to be taking all the bright colours and shapes at face value and so was filled with nothing but happiness whereas I think Eva was still wondering when Edward’s parents were going to come back. She is 7, so just on the cusp of the recommended age, but it’s probably worth noting that a super-sensitive seven year old might not cope that way with the strength of emotion in the piece.

The fantasy sequences are interwoven with the more real setting of Chankly Bore where a phone rings but no-one answers and the people are featureless, murmuring shadows with the exception of Edward. It’s telling that he is set apart from the rest of them by the depth of detail on his puppet and the expressions that he’s capable of compared with the townsfolk. They carry out their lives around him – shopping for bread and throwing birthday parties – but he sits alone, his parents’ house growing derelict behind him until he finds some purpose in the shape of the Jumbly Girl. Then he is transformed from the dull palette of his usual clothes to bright colours, a clown face and even a mermaid-like tail at one point. By the end, he has adorned himself with the homemade luminous nose and although he is still imbued with sadness, he is completely different from the Edward of the start.

The show is slickly staged, with puppeteers moving as one to propel Edward across the stage and singing in complex harmonies as they do so. It is sombre and with only a few points of comic relief but it is moving, thought-provoking and innovative – certainly not your average puppet show! It’s running till 10th Nov and is a good show for children who are mature enough to deal with the big issues it raises, especially the idea of growing up and changing. For tickets and more information, take a look here.

Disclaimer: I received free press tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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