FOR at least two decades the small-scale Christmas show for children aged up to four (and their adults) at Northern Stage, Newcastle, has always sold every seat... no pressure there then for London’s Little Angels Theatre who fill the gap this year with the penguin adventures of Me.

“I wasn’t aware this show always sells out when we took it on,” admits Little Angel’s artistic director Samantha Lane, who has adapted the production featuring puppets from the popular book from children’s author Emma Dodd.

“We did have five venues who were interested in this particular show over Christmas, but Northern Stage were the ones who really wanted it. It doesn’t surprise me that all the tickets go because I run a children’s theatre and they always sell well. It is wonderful for this to happen on Tyneside because I wanted as many children as possible to watch work for them,” adds Lane.

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She has the fascinating challenge of planning and running ten Christmas shows around the UK plus her own venue running three shows in Islington.

“I think Northern Stage became interested because this is a gorgeous tale about a penguin and its offspring and the joy discovering the world. I think the children empathise with the baby penguin and parents can compare themselves with the adult penguin... and who doesn’t love a penguin? The other thing about it is that while this isn’t a Christmas show in its theme, but there is something festive about penguins. I think it is more about having a really good story for young people,” says Lane.

The early years favourite by Dodd focusing on parental love and the importance of tiny arrivals in the world did present a big problem to Little Angel.

“It’s very short in terms of words and would probably only take about a minute to read, so the challenge for us was to turn it in something to hold the attention of children for 35-40 minutes,” says Lane.

There’s also the little matter of knowing when, and if, the theatre-makers have got it right and aren’t boring it’s young watchers. “It’s really interesting because you can make the obvious assumption that if a child is making noise then he or she is not enjoying it. The temptation is to say sssh! But, actually, when you are really young the way to show engagement is that you are being incredibly vocal. We feel it right to challenge that and say it’s okay. If children want to talk or make noise it can be fine. There’s no magic wand, but there are years of experience with that age group and seeing how long we can hold children’s attention while moving the story forward. You can hold their attention for longer than you think and, for me, I always test work all of the time and never assume things,” she says.

Lane has been artistic director at Little Angel Theatre since 2015 and was formerly director of projects at the Almeida Theatre where she made theatre for, by and with young people aged 14-25. Her directing credits at Little Angel Theatre include Let’s Fly, Me, The Singing Mermaid and Kika’s birthday.

She feels it always takes a leap of faith for nurseries and schools to work with children’s theatre, “but that’s who we are making the work for”.

Lane bursts into laughter over the Newcastle show’s title. “It’s a really tricky title when you are having meetings about it because you say, ‘I’d like to talk to you about Me... No I don’t mean me, but Me the show’. I worked with the puppeteer because it’s a one-person presentation and they make a huge contribution to that process. I did have a different person originally and what’s fascinating is that the show changed when Samuel Dutton took over because puppeteers bring their own personality to the penguin. Sam’s penguin is probably just a little funnier.”

Lane likes the puppeteer on stage approach to theatre because it takes the audience on a journey when the person operating the penguin is in complete view. “The children don’t see the puppeteer and that’s quite a sophisticated ask for children aged two, three and four. You’re asking them to completely ignore the fact that someone is operating the penguin. That truly is in the skill of the puppeteer,” she explains.

And when did she discover that the month-long run of Me had sold out?

“I didn’t know that. You’ve just told me. That’s good to hear. It’s wonderful because it means that lots and lots of children are going to the theatre,” laughs Lane.

n The sold-out run of Me ends at Northern Stage on December 30.

  • There are still tickets for Northern Stage’s main stage Christmas show Alice in Wonderland which runs until January 6. Box Office: 0191-230-5151 or northernstage.co.uk.
  • Tickets are also available in the New Year for families and little ones to see the venues Spring season:

Theatre Alibi’s The Boy Who Climbed into the Moon (April 6-7) features live music and puppetry to tell a fantastical story for six to 11-year-olds from the novel by award-winning writer David Almond; Highly Sprung present Fall Out (March 13-14) - a high-energy physical theatre performance set in a nightclub for young people age 14+; Showstopper! (February 17) offer an afternoon family show of its must-see improvised musical; The Owl & the Pussycat (February 13-17) from Kitchen Zoo uses puppets and live music to bring to life an unexpected ted telling of Edward Lear’s classic tale for three to seven-year-olds; and on the first Saturday of every month The Storyteller Chris Bostock shares stories from all over the world with children aged five to eight and their grown-ups.