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Little Violet & The Angel
21/12/2004
The Malay Mail
LIGHT AND ENJOYABLE
“Little Violet and the Angel” is wholesome fun for the family
By Amir Hafizi

Little Violet and the Angel may seem like a children’s play. It had a puppet (or rather, a series of puppets) as the lead character, after all. And the story is about family values and relationships through the eyes of a little girl; but some of the themes in it can be better explored by an adult mind, really.

And when mentioning the word adult, it doesn’t have to be heavy, violent or indecent. Merely a comment that says this play, being staged at The Actors Studio Bangsar, can work on different levels.

Written by Philip Osment, the story is about Violet, abandoned as a child by her mother on the doorsteps of an old couple, Vlad and Ana-Maria.

Vlad loves Violet, but Ana-Maria, having just lost a son, can’t really accept Violet. She argues with Vlad that he shouldn’t have taken Violet in, and even tells the girl that she was adopted.

In the world of children, realising the fact that one does not belong, or accepted, is a fear above all else. That mommy and daddy are not really mommy and daddy, but people who play the roles. It is a fear of not belonging which will perhaps later grow and transform into adolescent angst and adult loneliness.

But being an orphan can be a source of strength. Just look at the heroes of children’s tales Annie (from Little Orphan Annie) and J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter. They suffer from being orphans, having to rely on affection from other people aside from their parents, and drawing the courage to battle through life more readily as well.

Annie’s lovable spunkiness as well as Potter’s silent acceptance of hard truths are evident in Violet – another strong character written for children.

Meanwhile Gabriel, an angel, is assigned to take care of the welfare of little Violet. But being new in his job, as well as a bit clumsy, Gabriel soon neglects Violet in favour of hiding and playing in the clouds.

In reality, Gabriel is almost like a child himself. In fact, he is even more childlike than Violet, who can sometimes be more mature than the angel. Their relationship with each other is not really well-defined, until almost at the end of the play, when Gabriel finally fulfils one of his main duties of protecting Violet.

For most of the play, interaction between Violet and the angel only occurred a few times.

But the relationship which takes centre stage is the one among the triumvirate of Violet, Vlad and Ana-Maria. Vlad, played by Patrick Jonathan, loves Violet unconditionally, and lets her call him Papa in a clear sign of doting parenthood. They enjoy a happy bond, camping and gardening together as the man teaches Violet about the world around her. A fairly cute sequence has Vlad teaching Violet about the ‘big bear’ and ‘little bear’ in the skies. Absolutely precious.

But Ana-Maria (Sandra Sodhy) is merely ‘Auntie’ to Violet, signifying that Ana-Maria wishes to distance herself from the child.

At times, Ana-Maria is clearly afraid that Violet could taint memories of her child. This is seen in a scene when Ana-Maria protects a photo album of her son from the reaches of the precocious Violet. Ana-Maria puts herself out of reach from Violet so as not to let the girl, in Ana-Maria’s own words, ‘sneak into her heart’. A fairly beautiful conflict, perfect for a Christmas play.

But with all its joyful holiday elements, an atmosphere of impending doom permeates this play. At one point, Vlad falls sick. And after that, another member of the household is taken ill as well.

And then the mention of the late son of the old couple, as well as the existence of angels, takes the theme of death and the afterlife quite far in this play.

But these elements are dealt with in a very tasteful manner and no child cried during the presentation. The children seem to be more enchanted with the antics of Gabriel, speeding on his skateboard made of clouds, as well as the songs sung by Violet and Vlad rather than get upset with the deaths.

No, that was entirely for the adults. And if there is any lesson to be learned from this beautiful play, any message to tell, then it would be that our time on earth is fleeting and we should love those close to us for as long as we can.

Love your children, because you don’t know when you won’t have the time for them, or when THEY won’t have the time for you anymore.

Even Violet herself does not stay at one age all through the play. She starts off as a baby, then a toddler and then a grown-up kid.

Puppeteers Inessa Irdayanty and Cheryl Tan did quite a good job animating and voicing Violet. Inessa, who sounds like a precocious teenager herself, has the right amount of spunk for Violet, and Cheryl did great as the puppet’s singing voice.

Patrick Jonathan is perfect in his role as a doting parent. His voice and manner of speech are instantly disarming and perfect for the loving Vlad. His children must be very lucky indeed.

Meanwhile, Sandra Sodhy delivered the complex role of Ana-Maria quite believably. Even though in the end, the character was a bit underdeveloped as she wasn’t given the time to be anything else other than a scared, controlling parent, Sodhy expressed enough pain with the character for some people to empathise with.

And Syed Zalihafe as Gabriel is simply the play’s most entertaining character. Almost like a hyperactive child himself, Gabriel brings an element of wonder and excitement to an otherwise cute but sad story.

He is the comic relief, most of the time, though at some point, a twist in the story changes the perspective of his character somewhat and gives it more depth.

Alas, it was a depth that was again not explored fully – after all, this is still, a children’s play. But the audience can perhaps furnish the barren details themselves in their own heads.

And the supporting actors in the play, such as Manomaniam playing the Archangel who oversees Gabriel, as well as a bumbling doctor, did a very good job. We hardly see Joanna Bessey (or on other nights, Nell Ng) all that much as ‘The Girl’ who leaves Violet as a baby, but the minimal presence worked to instil an element of suspense whether or not Violet gets to meet her again.

Producer Chae Lian did a cameo as the person from the orphanage.

All in all, Little Violet and the Angel is an enjoyable play. They could have elaborated somewhat on the characters and themes as they have immense potential for exploration. But this is a holiday play aimed at families, so the excess baggage could be done away with for the sake of a lighter and more streamlined enjoyment.