We chatted to the puppeteer about the Little Angel Theatre’s project with Great Ormond Street If Not Here…Where?

(c) Victoria Henstock

Hi Joni, could you explain a bit more If Not Here…Where? is about? Hello! If Not Here…Where? is a small-scale puppetry show created specifically to be performed at bedsides in children’s hospitals, wards and hospices.  It has been developed by Little Angel Theatre, in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital and their Young People’s Forum and has been supported by BBC Children In Need, Nesta and other trusts and foundations and individuals.

The show is about a child, who starts off sitting lonely and worried in their bed, when suddenly, they are pulled through their bed into a Alice In Wonderland-like fantasy world. The most exciting part is that the children who watch the show get to interact with the show using a tablet computer. They get to decide where the puppet goes and how it travels through this fantasy land. They are presented with two choices, for example does the puppet go to the tree house or the light house? Do they travel by balloons or rocket? – it’s almost like a “choose-your-own-adventure” book!  

We did the first tour of the show last year and the plan was to do another tour this year, but of course, because of COVID-19, we’re unable to return to the hospitals. However, we were able to film the performance (and all the choices!) at the start of this year, and that has been put onto a tablet that we can pass over to play teams. We have been taking the tablet all over the UK, so that children and young people can still see the show, even if we can’t do it live for them. 

How did you get involved with the show? I’m a puppeteer and facilitator and I started working freelance with the Little Angel Theatre in 2019 with their educational and community projects. I heard about the show, (and I just loved the idea!) and was asked to help with making some of the puppets and the set. I was lucky enough to get an audition to perform the show too and was thrilled to get the role!

Could you tell me more about the puppets used in the show? We have five separate puppets who are all the same main character. They are all different sizes and have specific mechanisms for the part of the show they are in and the bit of the story they need to tell.  One is a table-top style puppet, one is a tiny shadow puppet and another is operated from above with a rod that goes into its head. The hard part is hiding the puppets when we’re not using them so it doesn’t get confusing or spoil the surprise when they appear!  While making, we also had to be very aware of infection control and making sure the puppets, props and set were all wipeable and could be cleaned quickly between performances. And this was before COVID! We also needed to make sure we could travel up and down the country with all the puppets and set, usually by train. It’s been a bit easier with the digital version, as I’ve only got to worry about one box! 

How does it feel to be involved with If Not Here…Where? It’s a really humbling experience and quite different to previous shows I’ve done. It really is all about the audience and their needs and being able to judge whether they are having fun or needing us to pause the show. A lot of the children we met were very poorly or in pain and we had to be very sensitive about that. I think you have to be really empathetic but also understand what you CAN do as a performer to help with their discomfort and that, in many ways, there’s not much you can do. So you have to do what you can do really well! We also had to be aware of the environment we were in and adapt to different spaces or when nurses or doctors needed to see the child we were performing to. Every performance was unique and I loved each one we did because we had to put a lot of thought and heart into each one.  I feel really grateful to be able to do the show as it feels very special. I’m really proud with what we’ve been able to do, even in these very strange circumstances. 

What would you say has been the most rewarding part of being involved with this production? The feedback we’ve had from young people and their grown-ups has been amazing. Just knowing that we provided a bit of distraction, escapism or fun in a really difficult time and that it was something that the kids could talk about with their grown-ups, family and friends that was unique to them was hugely rewarding.  I will always remember a mum telling me that she hadn’t seen her child smile since they got to the hospital until we did our performance for them. 

What’s next in store for the show? We’re just reaching the end of the digital tour in London this week (August 2nd-6th) and we have our fingers crossed that we’ll be able to go back into hospitals and perform the piece live again very soon! If you work at a hospital or hospice and would like us to visit you on our next tour, please contact samantha@littleangeltheatre.com. Performances are offered free of charge, are 20 minutes long and are suitable for anyone over the age of five.

By Emma Clarendon

For further information about the show visit: https://littleangeltheatre.com/schools-and-community/community/if-not-here-where/