Pelayo and Elisenda’s baby is sick. To make matters worse, their house has been invaded by crabs. Sleepless, they’re both despairing about how they can help their child – when a chance encounter with a very old man with enormous wings seems to offer them a solution.
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings is a fantastical tale based on the short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He’s best known for his novels, and this is nominally a tale for children but – Grimm-style – contains sufficient darkness and ambiguity to intrigue even the most stubbornly ‘grown-up’ adults.
Pelayo and Elisenda decide that there’s a risk that this old man is an angel, despatched to fetch their baby away from them, so they confine him to their chicken coop. The baby is instantly well. The months slide by. The old man / angel becomes something of a visitor attraction. Pelayo and Elisenda grow rich on the attention, until winter comes and the man is still trapped alongside the chickens. You’ll have to go see the show to find out what happens next.
The story is brilliantly, wittily, inventively told by two performers (Karen McCartney and Manus Halligan) and a whole array of puppets and props – plus tiny cameras affording close ups of the tiny characters, a microphone, vocals, song and excellent use of digital looping. Predominantly told through use of puppets on a table-top with the addition of background sets where needed, the careful attention to detail (the backlit chicken coop, the comically effective crab sound effects, the unintelligible old man speech, the tiny people, the surprise child puppet and the glorious wings) is captivating. The interplay between McCartney and Halligan is equally enjoyable as she corrals him into telling the story in the way that she sees fit.
There were plenty children in this audience and all watched, patiently, quietly, apparently rapt. There’s plenty of the fantastical in there – for all the gloom, this is a charming and beautifully told story. But the adaptation doesn’t shy away from the more sinister themes. As the guy sits hunched in the chicken coop and the months slide by, an adjacent little girl whispered: “why are they so cruel?” This is a show with plenty of food for your head and your heart, whatever your age.