Theatre for children should be a magical, enveloping experience which initiates an enduring love of the arts, and the Little Angel Theatre is certainly the perfect environment for such an introduction. Leaving busy Islington to duck down the wisteria-draped Dagmar Passage feels like a voyage of discovery in itself, and the children - some excited first-timers, some nonchalant old-hands – are greeted warmly at the door of the atmospheric building and definitely made to feel that this all about them.
The Tear Thief is an adaptation of the children’s story by Carol Ann Duffy, in which the mischievous little sprite spends the hour between supper and bedtime capturing the tears of grizzling children in her silvery sack. When she has a sizeable haul she skips off up to the moon – which, contrary to popular scientific belief, turns out to be powered by these little drops of children’s feelings – and tips them in, leaving it to glow brightly once more.
The simple but ingenious set allows the audience to peep into the windows of the houses and watch the familiar scenes of bedtime tantrums and bath time sulks, and although these often draw knowing laughter from children and parents alike, when the Tear Thief works her invisible magic there is a sense of reverence and awe. The tears are represented by tiny jewels which sparkle against the blackness of the set, and the gentle, reverential pace at which the shimmering puppet counts her treasures conveys beautifully the value of these little tokens of emotion.
The musical accompaniment by James Heasford is impressive, varying between slow, sonorous cello, jazzy violin and mournful harmonica. The whole soundtrack, including the wonderfully resonant voiceover by Juliet Stevenson, gives the piece a real air of gravity and importance. It is reassuring to see children’s theatre with such excellent production values, clearly holding the children’s intelligence and sensitivity in high regard.
Overall this is beautiful and thoughtful theatre, but the moral of the story is less straightforward. There is something undeniably sinister about the moon glowing with the stolen sadness of children, and although a little discussion afterwards could unveil the complex lessons of the piece, there must be many children who leave slightly bewildered by the message they have been given. Nonetheless, an enchanting experience for the entire audience, whatever their age.