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The Little Angel at the Hen and Chickens Theatre – Review

The Little AngelNo cast list was available for this performance of The Little Angel, so the company must go uncredited, though as it is a musical based on a story by Leonid Andreyev (1871-1919), it is at least possible to have character names, by turning to the source material. Set in Russia, it’s a tale about Sashka Petrovna, a child who wouldn’t be out of place in a Charles Dickens novel – although what would by contemporary standards be termed child abuse was commonplace back then, Sashka really is dealt a bad hand. Let’s just say there are some valid reasons as to why this schoolboy wants to take his own life – in fact, he’s technically not even a schoolboy, having been expelled.

The music is entirely recorded (make of that what you will), and given the storyline, it’s probably just as well that there isn’t a choreographed dance sequence to speak of. Aside from there not being much room for that sort of thing in a pub theatre space, there isn’t a scene in which a song and dance would be appropriate. At his distinctly working-class home, there’s no reason to even smile, and when he visits the Svetchnikov household (his father was once a tutor to Maria, now the lady of the house), theirs is a wealthy property with a team of servants. The children are all prim and proper, and set for life, as some witty and observant lyrics reveal. The contrast between them and scrappy Sashka was almost caricatured.

Whether through song or spoken word, the show takes a stand-and-deliver approach. I’m not entirely sure that Sashka is a “curious case”, the word ‘curious’ spoken as though it should be taken to mean ‘strange’, but this does seem a ‘curious’ choice for a musical. Or at least it did before the plot’s strands began to come together. A happy ending is made more explicit than in the original short story, and, to be honest, it’s a little too drawn out, the point about this being a new beginning for Sashka continuing to be made after it has already been understood.

Direct addresses to the audience are helpful, although there’s nothing new to discover for anyone familiar with the story, such is this production’s faithfulness to it. The staging is not exactly ‘poor school’, but neither is it overly elaborate, and scene changes never come across as anything approaching clunky. The musical numbers are varied in tone, with almost something for almost everyone – the upbeat songs somewhat betray the darker narrative they tell, and as Maria expresses feelings of love in a ballad later on, there’s a moment of much-needed positivity. But the harmonising and having different characters singing different lyrics on top of one another happened a bit too often, and the dramatic effect lessened with each repetition of that device.

The plot is not difficult to follow, especially when it moves as steadily as this. But for all the singing and storytelling, it’s the simple human touch in the final moments of the musical that proved most uplifting, a wonderful example of non-verbal communication (and a shining illustration of good acting too). A straightforward but nonetheless profound narrative is told through this poignant and punchy production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Little Angel is a new musical which tells the story of Sashka, a troubled boy with seemingly nothing to live for. His parents are violent, selfish and unsympathetic, it seems like Sashka’s life is spiralling out of control until one profound evening he sees ‘The Little Angel’ hanging on the Christmas tree and his life is inexplicably changed forever. It is moving, funny and full of heart. Music, lyrics and adaptation by Paul Dale-Vickers.

After the success of ‘De Profundis’ Actual Size continue to create new, innovative musical theatre work of an intimate nature. We have turned our attentions to a musical re-telling of Leonid Andreyev’s short story ‘The Little Angel’ Set in Russia at the turn of the 20th Century.

20th – 24th February 2018


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