Review: A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

Little Angel Theatre in association with Kneehigh ****

Crabs scurry across the stage, neighbours natter nervously and a skeletal man with enormous wings swoops across a storm swept sky. The villagers are initially anxious: “Hell on a stick, what the pooping floop is that?!” But, when this strange visitor begins to cure the sick, he’s locked inside a cage and, to the locals’ delight, turned into a highly profitable tourist attraction.

Little Angel Theatre and Kneehigh’s gently captivating show is based on a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story and the combination of puppetry and magic realism works beautifully. The plot is relatively compact and easy for the predominantly young audience to follow. But it is poetic, too, reflected in Annamaria Murphy’s elegant script, which is packed with exquisite descriptions: “The child has the sky in his eyes!”

The production never patronises and the humour is accessible but sophisticated. As the locals wait to be cured, we learn of “Bernardo The Back To Front” who “had is head turned by woman”. Murphy’s witty script is accompanied by a stream of sharp, visual gags. When a banker lurches into the village and starts gobbling up the villagers’ cash, his balloon stomach expands and explodes. And, as a priest lectures on the dangers of false worship, he gets so carried away that he levitates clean off the ground.

Director Mike Shepherd makes brilliant use of the limited space and maintains a clever sense of scale. Large puppets with mystifyingly expressive faces dominate the fore-stage – but the backdrop is treated with equal care. Tiny buses bob along the horizon, a small plane whizzes across the sky and a cluster of cardboard houses light up at night.

These fine visual touches are augmented by Ian Ross’s atmospheric soundtrack, alternately uplifting and mournful. It all adds up to the rarest of beasts: a resolutely grown-up show that throbs with a magical, childlike innocence.

Until January 29.