Little Angel Theatre is a community hub in Islington, bringing theatre, workshops and puppetry to North London. On Sunday we went along to Joseph Coelho’s Wishing Tree and it is by far one of the most moving and engaging theatre shows we have been to in a long while.
Firstly there’s the puppets and the puppet masters – Ben, the protagonist is executed perfectly with his dark beady eyes that seem full of those turbulent adolescent emotions like hope, longing and fear. I loved how in this production the puppet seamlessly blends with the actor and become one so you can fully immerse yourself into the story – the way it should be!
The poetry comes through in the storytelling making the tale appeal to different age groups. We learn how Ben has just moved to a new estate and into a blended modern family (away from his real dad). His new home is miles away from his old friends, his old school, his Grandma’s house, from everything he knows. He spends his day playing with his mate Dan the Man on his Nintendo Switch – until one day his Mum needs the internet connection for Zoom meetings and tells him he needs to go outside. It is at this point that we join Ben on his quest to explore the estate and discover the trees that live within it. Ben finds himself on a quest to rescue the missing tree of wishes and along the way discovers the magic in his everyday surroundings.
The play celebrates the healing power of nature in a built up environment and encourages us to revel in nature once more. Ben learns new games from the conker tree to the sound of a remixed version of Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers (which transforms into ‘Conkers’). The sound production is spot on in depicting the London we all know and love with the odd siren heard in the background alongside building works and human chatter.
I also enjoyed the mention of social housing and the nod to community within London estates, an aspect Coelho has taken from his own childhood growing up in a tower block in Roehampton. Alongside Ben we learn how trees listen to their communities through their roots and leaves and how they hear the hopes, dreams and fears of other children living on the estate. It was at this point that the show featured voices of local Islington school children talking about their fears and anxieties around climate change, pollution and the pandemic’s effect on older family and friends – this was particularly poignant and powerful. As a mother, it almost moved me to tears.
There’s plenty of uplifting moments too though – at one point there’s UV oranges dancing around the stage made the kid laugh out loud and the bin Monster had him in stitches. We both thoroughly enjoyed the production, loved the seasonal aspects and were very much entertained. Also on display throughout the theatre are six unique wishing trees created by designers Alison Alexander, Ingrid Hu,Maia Kirkman-Richards, Seb Mayer, Emma Tompkins and Samuel Wilde for workshops with local school children, and artwork created by these children in response to the trees and Joseph’s work.
The Wishing Tree is on at Little Angel Theatre until 26th of September and tickets are £13.50 for adults and £11.50 for children aged between 1 and 17. All tickets £8 for weekday shows at 4.45pm. More info and booking here.