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Little Violet & The Angel
The Star
“Little Violet and the Angel” reflects the spirit
of unconditional giving and sharing this season

By Niluksi Koswanage

Plays dealing with Christmas and its spirit of giving and caring tend to be garish or boring, which leaves the audience feeling somewhat empty. But Little Violet and the Angel, this season’s offering by Gardner & Wife Theatre, gives a chaste but warm reflection of the spirit of giving and sharing that is accessible to both children and adults.

Despite having very little connection with Christmas itself, the play, written by British playwright Philip Osment, provides a simply poignant plotline about different individuals’ efforts to love and share again after a sorrowful tragedy that resonates with the season.

Little Violet and the Angel’s ability to form landscapes of the human condition in an unpretentious way has seen the play performed to sold-out theatre houses worldwide and gained it the prestigious Peggy Ramsay Award. While it was not performed to a full house at The Actor’s Studio Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, last Wednesday night (presumably due to the ticket prices), the play’s familiarity and intimacy were appreciated by those present.

Much of that familiarity and intimacy was fostered through one of the main characters, young angel Gabriel, played with cherubic impishness by Syed Zalihafe. With his clumsy antics and affable personality, Zalihafe enjoyed an easy banter with the younger members of the audience who were invited to help him figure out his first important task, set by The Boss, better known as the Archangel Gabriel or “His Shininess”.

Yet it becomes apparent that young Gabriel has to grow up and face his first task of looking over a little baby abandoned at the doorstep of Vlad and Ana-Maria, an elderly couple coming to grips with the tragic death of their only son.

The couple’s differing reactions to the baby pushes the story along, with Vlad eager to keep the child and forget the past, while Ana-Maria only wishes to be left with the memories of her son and refuses to have anything to do with the baby, insisting that “the thing” be sent to an orphanage.

Sandra Sodhy invests in the role of Ana-Maria with a mixture of anguish and fierce rejection of the baby, now named Violet. Her slow and rigid bearing is perfectly contrasted with Vlad’s tender need to love Violet, fleshed out well by Patrick Jonathan who is also the composer for the play.

Zalihafe’s Gabriel clumsily steers a course between the couple and little Violet, trying his best to carry out what the Archangel has commanded him to do and learning a few surprising things on the way.

Overseeing the happenings of the world is the Archangel himself, played with a mixture of otherworldly majesty and discreet impishness by Mano Maniam. His bearing is ever regal, but the eyes and the tilt of the head convey the sly delight he finds in his good works.

Of course the draw for the children, apart from Gabriel’s goofy presence, is the puppets, used especially for the character of Violet, who grows up to be a rather inquisitive child.

Handled painstakingly by young puppeteers Inessa Irdayanty and Cheryl Tan who were able to mimic the noises of a cooing baby and an inquiring young child extremely well, the puppets were an interesting dimension although the performances were rather flat at times.

However, what emerges from the play is a palette of bright emotions tinged with the reality of loss and a mother’s realisation that she has rejected the very thing that would have given her the happiness she needed.

The upbeat songs throughout the play keep it from being too tragic and Jordan Rivers’ vocals give it a hearty feel.

However, the same cannot be said of Joanna Bessey’s character, the girl who leaves little Violet on the doorstep while singing her to sleep. Though Bessey has a strong voice, it comes out as too shrill on the high notes, which can be rather unnerving.

Nonetheless, Little Violet and the Angel is a tender, joyful play that can serve as a useful introduction for a young child unused to theatre and for those who want a thoughtful outing to the theatre this Christmas.