It was a great pleasure and a privilege to be at Little Angel Theatre on Sunday when the venue’s co-founder Lyndie Wright (pictured above with David Wood) was presented with the annual JM Barrie Award by Action for Children’s Arts (ACA).
Previous winners of the award have been Dick King-Smith, Judith Kerr, Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin, Quentin Blake, Roger McGough and Shirley Hughes, so it is clearly a prestigious thing to win.
Wright is from South Africa where, as an art student fascinated by puppets, she first met John Wright (1906-1991) and his touring marionette company. Later she came to London to train under him and to complete her art school training. In time she married Wright and they became parents to puppeteer Sarah Wright and film director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, The Soloist).
They also, in 1961, they found a bombed out temperance hall in Dagmar Passage, Islington and founded Little Angel Marionette Theatre - now known simply as Little Angel Theatre. It celebrates its half century this year, so the award to Lyndie Wright is very timely.
“It had no roof and there were trees growing where you’re sitting,” Lyndie Wright told Sunday’s audience. She went on to explain: “John spent a small legacy he’d had from an aunt, but everything had to be done on a shoestring and all our friends rallied round to help with DIY.”
Since then Lyndie Wright has made the puppets for more than 30 shows, and although she officially retired from Little Angel in 2002, is still designing and making puppets for theatres including RSC (The Tempest and Venus and Adonis), National Theatre (Coram Boy), Opera North, Opera Circus, Tamasha, Polka Theatre, Theatre-Rites and Kneehigh. She retains her own place in the workshop at Little Angel too and continues to make puppets for its shows.
Accolades were heaped upon her work, manner, personality and achievements on Sunday by, among others, Michael Rosen, Penny Francis and Little Angel’s Artistic Director, Peter Glanville. Ronny le Drew presented a tribute with lots of fascinating old film footage, including Pathé News on the opening of the theatre. And Le Drew and Sarah Wright performed a charming five minute puppet show - “The Bullfight” - using Lyndie Wright’s puppets.
Before the event Lyndie Wright told me she felt nervous. I hope by the end she felt elated by all the well deserved things which were said about her. There was quite a line-up to support her in the audience too including her son, Joe Wright and authors Philip Pullman and Lynne Reid Banks.
The award itself was presented to Wright — in ACA tradition — by three children. And after it Wright was asked to present ACA Members’ awards to Sue East, Chris Elwell, Suzie Lowe & Alexandra Hingst, Stewart & Mary McGill, Di Murray, Roman Stefanski and Will Tuckett.
Then we quaffed champagne and tucked into cake to celebrate - all in all a delightful afternoon and a splendid way of acknowledging a person who has brought so much pleasure and learning to so many children for 50 years. The third generation, grandchildren of the earliest audiences, are now beginning to come to Little Angel. And puppetry, in no small part due to the Wrights, is very firmly on the map once more.
Want to know more about Action for Children’s Arts, by the way? It’s a charity, founded 13 years ago. It campaigns for the arts for 0-12 year olds and, as its chair, David Wood, told the audience on Sunday: “We campaign, connect and celebrate - the three Cs.” The (very worthwhile, in my view) organisation, which also runs events and conferences, is always keen to recruit new members. See www.childrensarts.org.uk for more information.
Photo: Kate Withstandley