There was a sense of wonder and anticipation among the audience of grown-ups and knee-highs at La Tempesta in gorgeous Queens Wood, as we sat on tarpaulin-covered grass, waiting for the show to start.
Sunlight flickering through the trees seemed to cast a magical glow over everyone, before the music kicked in. A marionette appeared, dancing her way around the circle of spectators, towards her quirky forest house.
La Tempesta is a unique collaboration between puppet-meisters The Little Angel Theatre and aerial theatre company Scarabeus.
Based on a French novel, the simple story tells of a mother, father and daughter whose house is swept away by a raging storm. The family is forced to save their best-loved possessions before escaping on a raft to a new life.
The three characters are played alternately by puppets and performers, wearing the same outfits (I was delighted to see Nigerian ankara used for their dresses) and dangling from structures on either side of the audience.
This creates many charming, and a few comic moments, but can also be a little confusing as you find yourself twisting your head one way to the other to keep up with the action.
Nonetheless, we sat captivated by the movement of both puppets and aerial artists, suspended in harnesses, swinging, twirling and dancing in the air like woodland fairies.
The soundtrack evokes a tropical mood — with Afro-Latin, Caribbean and French influences — as well as the darkness of the storm brewing and finally boiling over.
But the storm is never too scary for the little ones, mainly because they’re called on to get involved — helping to carry some of the family’s treasures (their house plants) to safety.
At one point, we went underwater, submerged by an ‘ocean’ of wavy blue cloth.
Fishes and even a shark swam by, threatening the lives of our heroes. But at last the storm settled and we watched them sail away into another adventure.
La Tempesta is an absolutely lovely show, only 40 minutes long, well timed for the younger audience (it’s aimed at kids ages 2+). Stick around after the performance, and you might get to meet the marionettes.
La Tempesta is in Queens Wood, Muswell Hill Rd, Highgate N10 (Highgate tube) at 12pm & 3pm (no shows Mon Aug 12), £8.95 adv/£10 door (Aug 8-18)