James Haddrell speaks on drawing attention to social and political issues through pupperty

Over a period of three days last week, the astonishing international puppetry event The Walk completed one of its final stages when the 3.5-metre-tall puppet girl Amal, whose name means hope in Arabic, made appearances at a range of London locations.

James Haddrell, artistic director of Greenwich Theatre

Having begun her journey on the Syria-Turkey border and made her way across Europe en route to Manchester, Amal has been designed to represent all displaced children, many separated from their families, and is walking across the continent in a bid to find her mother, to return to school, to start a new life.

Last weekend, the 8,000km journey took in St Paul’s Cathedral, the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, Trafalgar Square – and included a visit to 2022’s London Borough of Culture, Lewisham, where a giant fairground wheel was erected in her honour.

Good Chance, the company behind The Walk (which is presented in collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company, creators of War Horse) describe the project as “a cultural odyssey transcending borders, politics and language to tell a new story of shared humanity – and to ensure the world doesn’t forget the millions of displaced children, each with their own story, who are more vulnerable than ever during the global pandemic”.

In many ways Amal’s journey echoes that of real life child refugee Ishmael Hamoud who left a war zone in Syria at the age of 15 after his school closed down due to the conflict.

Hamoud travelled alone all the way to the UK, becoming the first unaccompanied Syrian refugee minor to arrive here legally (under a short-lived legal initiative to accept child refugees).

Hamoud ultimately secured a place at Birkbeck University to study global politics and international relations, but most are not as lucky as him, and it is hoped that The Walk will help to spread a message of acceptance and support for other struggling child migrants.

There’s a Rang-Tan in My Bedroom at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington

It is clear that Good Chance’s project will have an international impact, using incredible puppetry to bring a potent social and political issue to the attention of countless people along the way.

But puppetry does not have to be used on such a grand scale to address political issues.

At the Little Angel Theatre in Islington, There’s a Rang-Tan in My Bedroom and Other Stories has been inspired by two Greenpeace campaign films, the first of which became an internet sensation in 2018 when supermarket chain Iceland was banned from using it as their Christmas television ad.

With online views now exceeding 30 million the short animated film, based on the poem by James Sellick, is voiced by Emma Thompson and was produced to raise awareness of the deforestation brought about by the palm oil industry.

The beautiful adaptation at the Little Angel, which is currently playing to packed houses, encourages children to understand the issues involved, with Doc Brown and Rag ‘n’ Bone Man joining Emma Thompson in providing narration.

Alongside the show, the theatre is also releasing a seven-episode weekly digital video series called Bertie! aimed at ages five-11 and addressing landfill, alongside a detailed scheme of work for schools to download.

While Good Chance’s Amal and the Little Angel’s Rang-Tan could not be more different, both offer a glimpse of just how powerfully puppetry can be used to advocate for political and social change.

For anyone with children and a desire to see them politically engaged and committed to improving the world around them, a trip to the Little Angel
before the show closes on November 7 is a must.

Pictured: There’s a Rang-Tan in My Bedroom at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington

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