Continuing with our 50th Memories series for our 50th Anniversairy, Mandy Travis tells how she first came to experience and later work at the Little Angel Theatre. Mandy is a performer, puppeteer and musician and runs Lost and Found Theatre.

The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland with Mandy operating

The Little Angel Theatre is located in a tiny olde worlde square next to an olde worlde graveyard somewhere in a parallel universe between Upper Street, Essex Road and Cross Street.

My partner Tony and I first took our son Joe there when he was about two and a half – some time in 1992/93. I was an actor at the time, working between rep, telly and west end, but invariably out of work, so weekend visits to the Little Angel became a regular occurrence.

Even before you enter the building, you are lured by invisible fingers, to peer through Lyndie Wright’s workshop window of wonder at the weird wooden figures being whittled within.

The more I took Joe to the Little Angel, the more I became addicted to the otherworldly fragrance of mothballs, ground coffee, fresh sawdust and old velvet intermingled with a generous sprinkling of some nameless other thing – magical, ethereal and spiritual – that envelops you the minute you enter the foyer.

The shows were entrancing. We saw many original John Wright marionette shows, directed by Christopher Leith, (such as Webs, Witches and the Spider Queen, Rapunzel and The Little Mermaid), also new Little Angel shows – notably, Grimaldi and Go Noah Go. I persuaded Joe’s primary school in Leytonstone to book Go Noah Go in 1996 and the children there, most of whom had never seen live puppet theatre, were spellbound.

I also remember watching a couple of visiting shows – Banyan’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Norwich Puppet Theatre’s Jack and the Beanstalk– not performed with figurative puppets, but stories vividly told using found objects and old toys and pieces of fabric, and I was blown away by this, never before having encountered this type of puppetry – or object theatre.

I knew then that the Little Angel was where I wanted to work, and puppetry and object theatre would have to be a prominent feature in every theatre piece I was involved in from then on. So in 1996, I attended some puppetry workshops (run by either LIFT or LIMF). I particularly enjoyed Steven Mottram, Improbable Theatre, and Gavin Glover of Faulty Optic. In 1997 I auditioned at the Little Angel for Christopher Leith who was looking for a puppeteer to perform in The Ugly Duckling. I didn’t get the job, but a couple of months later, Chris rang me to tell me that one of the puppeteers in John Agard’s Many Legged Musicians of Bremley Town was leaving, and he asked me if I’d like to take her place. Well you can easily guess my answer…

Other shows followed. As Joe grew older, I would take him with me to the theatre at weekends, and while I did the show he would help Flo serve the refreshments or help Glen at the box office by selling programmes or stuffing envelopes with new brochures. Glen would send him out to buy milk and give him money for sweets for helping. Sometimes Joe would sit with Lyndie in the workshop where she would help him make things. One Saturday when no one was looking, he fed Nellie (Lyndie’s beautiful lurcher) with chips, which re-appeared in a slimy little pile in the middle of the foyer just before Flo let the audience in. Flo came straight backstage and told me to come and clear it up immediately…

The Giraffe the Pelly and me

It is now nearly fourteen years since my first show and I have puppeteered in seventeen different shows, some of which have been repeated in later years. One of them, The Mouse Queen, went to Broadway for 3 weeks! I’ve enjoyed doing all the shows of course, but highlights include The Elves and the Shoemaker (a one-woman show), Jabberwocky, The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me, Petrushka and Alice in Wonderland.

I have also attended several puppet-making workshops run by the Little Angel. I had never made a puppet in my life before, but thanks to Lyndie Wright and Peter O’Rourke, I have now made four puppets that actually work and am about to embark upon a fifth under the masterful eye of John Roberts. Everything I know about the art of puppet theatre, I have learnt through working here. Everyone who has ever worked here in whatever capacity since 1961 is a member of a big and very special family, all helping to continue the amazing work that John and Lyndie started 50 years ago. I love the little Angel Theatre with all my heart and feel honoured to be part of its history. Thank you so much for having me!