Angelina Ballerina child’s play for Miranda

Angelina Ballerina

Angelina Ballerina - Credit: Archant

Miranda Larson is fast gaining a reputation as one of the country's leading names in the world of family theatre and bringing children's characters to the stage including latest theatrical creation Angelina Ballerina. She tells JOHN BULTITUDE why she is still a big kid at heart.

Dancing mouse Angelina Ballerina is hugely popular. Her adventures whether in books or on TV are the ultimate aspirational tale for youngsters with her stories about aiming for success with the aid of hard work and talent.

The popular character has now gained a new lease of life in a stage adventure which sees her follow in the footsteps of other professional dancers and seek TV fame.

The award-winning Vital Theatre Company's stage production, currently at Norwich Theatre Royal, with book and lyrics by Susan DiLallo and music by Ben Morss, sees Angelina and her friends, Alice, Gracie, AZ, Viki, and even their teacher, Ms Mimi, all aflutter because a special guest is coming to visit Camembert Academy.

Cue an exciting adventure for tiny tots upwards where the emphasis is on audience participation and making sure young people get the chance to enjoy a live performing experience.

At the helm is Miranda Larson who has already directed more than 60 family productions on a local and touring basis, and loved getting to grips with the story of Angelina.

She explained: 'We are basing it on the TV series and so we have used the same settings for that. It is very hard to pinpoint exactly where you start but the great thing about Angelina is that the characters are already there so you have something to work with.'

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Miranda, who writes and directs the stage production, also loved the opportunity to use the stage setting as part of the show's plot. She said: 'It is about putting on a show as Angelina wants to put on a performance in a theatre so it will essentially be putting on a show within a show.'

One of her key aims was to make sure the younger members of the audience could connect with the show. 'There is lots of interaction and joining in for the audience. We want everybody to get involved. One of the things to say is that it features all different styles of dance. Angelina is a ballerina but all the other characters like different types of dance so you will see things like salsa, contemporary and jazz,' she said.

'We have incorporated dance into everything with even the scene changes featuring some movements. Rather than just have the stage go dark and nothing happen, we wanted to do this to help maintain the interest of children.'

Keeping the interaction element going was also integrated into the look of the production. Miranda said: 'We wanted to steer away from the idea of using skins to completely cover the performers, so we decided to dress them in ears and tails in the same sort of style as The Lion King show. It gives the actors a bit more to do than just performing with a head on so you can see their facial expressions.

'It can be more challenging for the actors as they need to be not just good dancers but also have actions which work in a meaningful way too.'

Her work in children's theatre on the likes of stage productions of Bob The Builder, Thomas The Tank Engine and Milkshake also means she is acutely aware of the challenges of the tough teeny audience.

Miranda said: 'Children will not give a show a second chance. Us adults may well give something the benefit of the doubt but children will say 'I will not watch that again' if they don't enjoy it.'

There is no doubt with her strong CV, she has a strong reputation in the children's theatre world. As well as writing and directing shows, she had a long association with the Children and Live Events Team at BBC Worldwide writing scripts, working on TV shows and helping to co-ordinate events like the Top of The Pops Awards.

But what motivates her to keep working in an area of live performance which may not appeal to everyone? 'I think everybody who knows me would say it is because I am still a kid myself. I like the fact you can still use your imagination,' she said.

'For me, there is also nothing better than seeing a show where children are completely engaged and having a fantastic time. It is very nice to see children loving the performance. It is just the creativity of it all. It is a creative place to be. I like that challenge of telling a good story simply.'

So she will be waiting with bated breath to see what audiences in Norwich make of the show, which will also feature young people from three dance schools who have been selected to make a guest appearance in the finale of the production.

They have been drawn from the Heather Millan School of Dance and the United School of Dance in Norwich and the Newton Flotman-based Anglia Region Theatre School (ARTS). Miranda said: 'We wanted to do this as Angelina is a very well-loved brand around the country and there are a lot of dance schools associated with the Angelina audience. She does inspire people to dance. We approached a number of local dance schools so that children could enjoy the Angelina experience. It is a lovely moment in the show and a great experience for the young people.'

And just in case any child thinks Angelina is not for them despite the uplifting story, stunning dancing and acting, and even the involvement of their peers, Miranda said everyone can enjoy it. 'Angelina is thought of a girly character but we have put plenty in for the boys as well. There are sections where they are encouraged to join in so brothers don't need to feel left out,' she laughed.

It does seem as though the energy, enthusiasm and dedication of Miranda for entertaining and entrancing the young remains as strong as it ever was even though — as she readily admits — the joy of actually experiencing childhood is a while ago. Family theatre does seem in very safe hands.

t Angelina Ballerina — The Mousical, Norwich Theatre Royal, February 22-23, 11am and 2pm, £16.50-£5.50, under-18s tickets £13.50-£5.50, 01603 630000,