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Emily Rising review at the Little Angel Theatre, London – ‘bittersweet and witty’

Emily Rising at the Little Angel Theatre, London. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Magic always goes down well with audiences of all age groups. Dan Rebellato’s Emily Rising has a strong magical element – something that is characteristic of all the Little Angel Theatre’s work – but this tempered with a contemporary setting.

The production’s journey towards its current incarnation is an unusual one. It was adapted from Rebellato’s radio play, first broadcast in 2001. Radio and puppetry seem like an odd combination, with the latter being so visual, but both require full imaginative participation. This is realised in Oliver Hymans’s production, which featuring some dazzling technical flourishes.

Emily is a chatty, happy-go-lucky, Beyonce-mad ten-year-old from Islington who wakes up one morning to find that her feet no longer touch the ground. No one has any idea what the cause might be. Her mum ties to her bedroom window with a skipping rope until she can’t be restrained any longer.

Enchantingly rendered by Alison Alexander, Emily and her family are the most naturalistic puppets (there’s delightful voice work from Peyvand Sadeghian and Yana Penrose). The people around them take more surreal forms. Most ingeniously, a social worker is created from bundles of paperwork with a clipboard for a face.

There’s a rather beautiful yet bleak ending, which I interpreted as a somewhat extreme metaphor for leaving childhood behind and entering adolescence.

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Bittersweet tale of growing up boosted by witty puppets and a sparky, gravity defying-heroine