Little Angel Theatre in the 60's

Part of our 50th Memories series, Tony Godel an audience member since the opening of the Little Angel gives his memories of our theatre:

We went to “The Little Angel Marionette Theatre” as children in the 1960‘s, luckily we lived close by. In those days Islington was not the trendy place it is today, I remember huge lorries roaring down Upper Street and very dingy and run down shops.

Dagmar Passage oozed atmosphere then as it does today. A perfect setting for a puppet theatre small in scale and quietly tucked away from the main road. The beautiful houses and church yard which surround the theatre could have been made for a film set.

In those days as you entered the theatre there was always a wonderful smell of coffee. I think the coffee must have been constantly brewing to keep the puppeteers awake after their long working days and nights. From a child’s point of view the scale of the theatre was perfect you could always see the stage wherever you sat. It is an unwritten rule at Little Angel that adults sit behind adults and children sit behind children.

Once seated I used to revel in the carved proscenium with an image of a gold magic kingdom in one of it’s corners .We used to wait in anticipation for the purple curtain to rise . In those early days there was always a curtain and you never saw a puppeteer it was all proscenium based.

Once the production started we gasped in astonishment as the magic of the Little Angel productions enveloped us. It always seemed eternity to me as a child between the house lights dimming and the curtain rising! The sound quality then was not as sophisticated and the productions were executed at a slower pace than would be tolerated by today’s children. The frenetic anarchic witches in The Wild Night of the Witches on broom sticks in my mind as one such production. I am thrilled to read is being revived for the anniversary year. Those witches must have been flying around and trying to escape the puppetry store for the last fifty years! The huge rod puppet devil with red eyes in the Soldiers Tale also caused us all to squirm in fear. The production larger in scale at the Royal Festival Hall had an even larger and more frightening devil!

One sometimes caught a glance of the founders of the Little Angel John Wright in the lobby. John seemed to me as a child the epitome of a puppeteer maker he wore a large jumper and was very jovial.

Nearly all the productions were in house and there were not nearly as many visiting companies as there are now. There was always a long running and ambitious production performed at Christmas .The other productions which were on a lesser budget but just as absorbing went on throughout the year with shorter runs .This was good as it meant one did not have to wait too long for the next production to come round!

The productions were so captivating that it seemed that as soon as one had sat down the performance was over.

The Little Angel then and now is one of London’s treasures. Happy Birthday! Long may the magic continue to be woven by the dedicated team at the Little Angel.

Writen by Tony Godel

Some more information about Tony:

We were taken to the Little Angel by my Grandmother when we very young children in the sixties. My grandparents had a dry cleaning shop and invisible mending shop for clothes at 66, Holloway Road. Can you imagine what a thrill it was for a child to have a Puppet Theatre on their doorstep?

When I used to go to the Little Angel as a child I sat there and marvelled and wondered how it all happened. I just knew then that back stage was the place for me and I just had to work in the theatre.

As a teenager I used to volunteer at the Unicorn Theatre as an usher and eventually managed to help back stage. Caryl Jenner the founder of the Unicorn offered me an apprenticeship in all technical aspects of the theatre. Jenner was as inspired and had the same vision as John Wright. In other words producing theatre of the highest quality for young people with absolutely no compromise. I then worked in Repertory in Stage Management at Salisbury Playhouse, Birmingham, Chichester etc.

I finished off my theatrical career at the National Theatre in Stage Management when the building first opened on the South Bank and was there for nearly twenty years.