Author & Illustrator of iconic childhood story ‘Handa’s Surprise’ Eileen Browne talks about the book, currently adapted for the stage at the Little Angel Theatre

Published 25 years ago now, Eileen Browne’s well loved storybook Handa’s Surprise continues to inspire imaginations. Set in East Africa, Kenya, the book’s lead takes on a soon to be memorable journey to visit her best friend Akeyo in a neighbouring village. The book, a fun, humorous tale with a heartwarming message of friendship, generosity and the element of surprise and unpredictability has currently been adapted for the stage by Marleen Vermeulen and starring Rujenne Green and Hannah Akhalu at the Little Angel Theatre until Saturday 16th April. The family show is a lovely addition to the children’s theatre genre, and a great way to spend half term and the upcoming Easter Holidays. Currently available to book now, Eileen tells us more about her inspiration for the book, the book’s theatrical adaptation and celebrating the story’s longevity.

Hi Eileen, your iconic book Handa’s Surprise has been adapted for the stage, and is currently showing at the Little Angel Theatre up until 16th How do you feel about seeing your story on stage?

Hello Theatre Full Stop!  I feel honoured and excited knowing that the Little Angel Theatre have transported Handa’s Surprise from the book to the stage once more.

Handa’s Surprise follows the eponymous character’s footsteps as she journeys to visit her best friend Akeyo in the neighbouring village. A story that has captured the imaginations of many, what inspired yourself to write it?

The idea came from watching a someone on TV. This person couldn’t see that a fountain spraying up behind them looked as if it was spurting from the top of their head.  I realised that if someone was carrying something on their head, they wouldn’t be able to see anything happening to it and the first idea for Handa’s Surprise was born!

As well as writing the book, you also created the book’s illustrations. What did that creative process involve?

Illustrating Handa’s Surprise involved lots of research and try-outs. The original concept was for a wordless book so the illustrations came first and they told the story. I sketched girls of African heritage in my local Primary School; sought advice on hairstyles, clothes, names etc from three wonderful women from the Kenya Tourist Office and High Commission and visited many zoos and safari-parks to draw the animals. The illustrations are all done with pencil, masking fluid and watercolours.

Handa’s Surprise very recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and continues to be enjoyed and utilised as a valuable teaching resource within schools. What does it mean to you to have reached this milestone and made such an impact?

It’s a huge surprise and delight to see this book standing the test of time!

The production is directed by Marleen Vermeulen and performed by Rujenne Green and Hannah Akhalu. With set design by Sophia Lovell and puppetry design by Peter O’Rourke. How has the show been translated to the stage?

The theatre has kept the ‘look out it’s behind you’ fun of the book and magically transported its sunny Kenyan setting to the heart of London, enriching it with music, dance, clever puppeteering and interaction with the young audience.

What can audiences expect from the show?

Hopefully the audiences will be able to leave their worries behind them as they become entranced by this warm and welcoming Little Angel production.

What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?

I hope the audiences will feel that they have travelled to another place.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Handa’s Surprise is currently showing until Tuesday 19th April 2022 at the Little Angel Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop