The Little Angel Theatre doesn’t shy away from presenting children’s shows imbued with melancholic elements.
Edward Lear used ‘nonsense’ verse as a method for circumnavigating his mental health difficulties. The Dong with a Luminous Nose is quite different from The Owl and the Pussycat, telling the tale of a loner searching indefinitely for his lost ‘Jumbly’ love who came and left in a sieve.
Directed, designed and adapted by Peter O’Rourke, this strikingly surreal and abstract interpretation with its angular, fragmented puppets is a bit like watching someone else’s trippy dream. There’s (deliberately) very little dialogue and, unusually for a children’s show, the emphasis is on mood rather than narrative. Set on a wooden toy-town connected to the outside world by a public telephone, some of the plot nuances get lost like the crackly incoming phone calls.
The titular ‘Dong’ is Edward (assumed to represent Lear himself), who runs away from his family during a storm, embarking on a life of solitude. All gangly limbs, prominent ears and a melancholic expression, his ultimate adoption of an unusual nasal appendage is touchingly conveyed by torchlight.
The centrepiece is the Jumblies’ dreamlike ‘ballet’ with its floating puppet parts representing fantastical sea creatures who bring joy for a short time before returning to their nomadic way of life.
The cast of five harmonise well and perform the puppets’ balletic choreography gracefully, and Ben Glasstone’s haunting music is ideally suited to storytelling in a minor key.