'A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings' - Kneehigh / Little Angel Theatre
Little Angel Theatre, London
The action begins with the fabulous nosy old woman, nebbing out of her cottage window and busy-bodying around the streets. She is very happy to offer her opinions and miserable premonitions. Her neighbour's son is ill, she doesn't think he'll make it through the night. The crabs are everywhere, sending her nuts as she and everyone else battens down the hatches for the impending storm – a terrific shutter-banger which proclaims the arrival of our old man/angel, who crashes down, broken, into the tiny bedraggled seaside village.
With him lands a rich and vivid world of magical possibilities, miraculous cures and abundant wealth, and a story that keeps its tantalising truth until the very end. The very old man with enormous wings is a beast of a puppet; his design and manipulation keep him always on the edge of any interpretation. He is beautiful, magnificent, terrifying, and simultaneously shabby, mundane and just a little bit disappointing, expressing neither benevolence nor malice as he quietly eats potato peelings in the ramshackle display pen the villagers have thrown together.
But after the sensation of the old man's arrival and the miraculous cures that follow, the villagers ultimately lose interest, and Gabriel García Márquez's story shifts to explore some of the darker sides of human nature. Ignorance abounds, and were it not for the kindness of the small boy and his dog...
I cannot imagine a more perfect production of this wonderful story. Crowds were animated en masse, crabs scurried, and the journey of the messenger boy to summon the Bishop on his bike (shouting 'Not Telling Anyone!' at the top of his voice as he went) was pure magic. And then there's the dog, the various hilariously afflicted 'incurables', the de-frocked Priest, and that's not even mentioning the awesome finale....
Well of course the puppets were beautiful, the animation exquisite, the staging and lighting brilliant – Little Angel have had 50 years to practice! This birthday collaboration, which brings the theatre's founder family, the Wrights, together with the uplifting Kneehighs (who are only about 30 years old) seems a perfect way to celebrate. Little Angel in association with Kneehigh have created a true modern classic.