Thursday, 20 December 2007

PRESENT LAUGHTER

A Very Merry Christmas
and
A Happy New Year
to all my Readers

In shutting up shop on the Sibley Blog for the holiday season, I leave you with the text of an little radio entertainment which, thirty years ago, I wrote for Miss Penelope Keith.

Various versions of this script have been circulating on the Internet for some while, but they are all incomplete - being transcribed, presumably, from edited versions of the programme.

Here, then, is the full sorry tale, illustrated with photographs of this year's fabulous window displays from the Piccadilly emporium of Messrs Fortnum and Mason.

So, enjoy -- and ponder its message as you wrap - and unwrap - your Christmas gifts!


...AND YET ANOTHER PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE

A Cautionary Tale for Christmas Showing
that it is Better to Give than to Receive


by Brian Sibley


My very dearest Algy,

How can I begin to thank you for your charming Christmas gift? What
luxury! My very own pear tree, with that dear little pheasant in it - or is it supposed to be a partridge? You really are a foolish boy! Actually, the birdie isn't wildly attractive, but the pear tree should be lovely - when pears are in season again.

Thank you, my darling.

All my love - forever.

Your ownest affectionate,

Cynthia




My dearest Algy,

You are quite impossible, my love. The turtle doves are
adorable! They're already cooing away like anything; and, I must say, their amorous behavior leaves very little to the imagination. But I expect they will settle down in time.

Thank you, my sweeting.

Affectionately yours,

Cynthia

PS: I almost forgot to thank you for the second partridge-in-pear-tree thing: it balances up the other side of the fireplace so nicely.




Dearest Algernon,

You know, poppet, you are simply going too,
too far! Your latest gift has just been delivered: what an imaginative boy you are to think of sending me something as unusual as three French hens.

I'm only sorry that I hadn't told you that I am allergic to eggs. Never mind I can always sell some to the neighbours who, incidentally, have been much entertained by the sight of the postman struggling along each morning with the pear trees.

Much love,

Cynthia



Dear Algernon,

I suppose it's silly of me, but I am seriously beginning to wonder whether you aren't trying to get me to start an aviary. Your four 'colly birds' have just arrived and could, more aptly, be described as '
call-y birds', since that is what they seem to do best! Perhaps you could let me know whether colly birds are in the laying business or whether they are intended for human consumption; Mrs Beeton is, I find, surprisingly silent on the matter.

I can honestly say, Algernon, that I'd always thought birds were rather pleasant little creatures,
until you gave me this opportunity of observing them at such close quarters.

Love,

Cynthia

PS: I do hope you got a reasonable discount on all the pear trees.




Algernon,

Thank you for your latest gift of five curtain rings, a somewhat curious present but, nevertheless, a refreshing change from all those very pretty, but somewhat noisy, birds you will keep sending me.

I doubt if I should have bought so large a turkey for Christmas had I known what you had in mind. Could we ease up a bit on the fowl, do you think?

Cordially,

Cynthia



Dear Algernon Fotherington-Smythe,

I see we are back with the birds again! Your six geese a-laying have just arrived, and are happily doing so for all they're worth. I rather thought I'd mentioned to you how it was with me and eggs...

Thank you for putting me right about the curtain rings - I never could tell the difference between brass and gold. Of course, I am very pleased that you should have thought of sending me
another five, just so that I have one for every finger. But as I now have more hens, doves and partridges than I rightly know how to cope with, and as they aren't too fussy about personal hygiene, I seldom seem to have my hands out of a bucket of water long enough to try them on!

Yours,

Cynthia B



Dear Mr Fotherington-Smythe,

I have just succeeded in accommodating your seven swans a-swimming
in my bath - which was no mean achievement when one considers the number of pear trees on the landing!

Regrettably, the geese got to the rings before I could, so that's probably the last we've seen of them - would I could say the same for the geese!

I must now ask you to desist from sending me any more of these well-intentioned but slightly impracticable gifts.

Cynthia Bracegirdle

PS: I hadn't realised just how messy moulting partridges can be, or how badly they seem to get on in captivity with other birds.



Mr Fotherington-Smythe,

Fresh milk is one thing, eight enormous Friesians in the drawing room is something else altogether!

True, the milkmaids have a certain rustic charm, but you wouldn't believe how much they eat. You may also care to note that my bath has only so much room in it for swans with a seemingly insatiable urge to be a-swimming, and it will definitely
not hold fourteen of them! Take that from one who has tried!

Please call a halt to this absurd behavior.

Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle




Mr Smythe!

Thanks to your weird sense of humor, my house is now in utter chaos! As if it wasn't bad enough having sixteen cows producing milk by the gallon, we now have nine 'ladies' - as you amusingly call them - dancing here, there and everywhere, one of whom seems to be working out a somewhat extraordinary routine involving several doves and a goose!

The most charitable view I can take of your actions is that you are out of your tiny mind.

Enough's enough!

PACK IT IN!!

Miss C Bracegirdle

PS: Fortunately, one of the partridges has just drowned itself in a bucket of milk.




Unspeakable wretch!

Your misguided generosity has apparently now led you to suppose that I could find some use for ten Lords a-leaping. They might lend a hand with cleaning up all the rancid milk and bird-lime - if they'd only stop leaping around after the dancing girls for five minutes!

I understand the entire neighborhood is now up in arms about it all and the Residents' Association has sent a petition to the local Member of Parliament.

Thumping on the front door at this precise moment are no less that two dozen representatives from various government bodies and from the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to hens, doves, geese, swans, cows, partridges and, for all I know, pear trees! And the bizarre inter-breeding amongst the birds is to be the subject of an article by a leading ornithologist in the next issue of
Bird Monthly!

The recent outbreaks of crop-blight, fowl-pest and foot-and-mouth disease have now reached
epidemic proportions; and if the antics I witnessed behind the pear trees this afternoon are anything to go by, several of the milkmaids should soon find themselves in, what polite society calls, an interesting condition.

For your information, I have now reached the end of my tether - which is more than can be said for those damn cows of yours!

C Bracegirdle (Miss)




CRETINOUS TOAD!!

Have you got even the remotest idea what eleven pipers piping sounds like at two o'clock in the morning? Of course, it only adds very slightly to the hideous cacophony of noise that I must now daily endure. I swear there's more mooing, cooing, honking, clucking and calling here than in the zoological gardens. If there were any room left, I might seriously consider opening the place to the public.

Your latest shipment of lords, ladies and livestock is now settled into the furore and by the same post came received a letter advising of a visit which the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries intends to make this afternoon - supposing he can get in the door that is!

One good thing at least is that the latest influx of birds have put the cows off giving milk; I can hear them now - uprooting the pear trees in the orchard I once called a living room!

My landlord has taken out an eviction order against me, as he claims, somewhat surprisingly, that the terms of my lease do not cover utilisation of the premises as a menagerie, dancing school, smallholding or annex of the House of Lords.

C B

PS: Please be advised that all future correspondence between us will be handled by my solicitors, Messrs Grabble, Twister and Fleecem.




Grabble, Twister and Fleecem
Chancey Chambers
Suet-under-Writ
(Off the Eastbourne Road)
Sussex

Dear Mr Smith,

Re: Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle, deceased

We are the executors of the estate of the above-named deceased, and are writing to acknowledge receipt of your recent delivery of twelve drummers drumming.

You will no doubt be distressed to learn that, shortly after the arrival of these gentlemen, our client, in what must be described as a somewhat deranged state of mind, travelled to Eastbourne and threw herself off the top of Beachy Head.

Before taking this step, however, she left instructions with ourselves for the adding of a codicil to her Last Will and Testament, under which you become her sole beneficiary and legatee.

I am, therefore, arranging for the following items to be delivered to you later this day:

12 drummers drumming
22 pipers piping
30 lords a-leaping
36 ladies dancing
40 maids a-milking
42 swans a-swimming
42 geese a-laying
40 gold rings
36 colly birds
30 French hens
22 turtle doves
and 11 partridges with 12 accompanying pear trees.

With our sincere congratulations on your inheritance and assuring you of our best attention at all times,

Yours faithfully,

Grabble, Twister and Fleecem


...And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Day 1977 and starred PENELOPE KEITH as Cynthia Bracegirdle with TIMOTHY BATESON as Mr Graball. The programme was directed by JOHN THEOCHARIS.


See You All After the YULE!

Here's to a WONDERFUL 2008!



Text and images: © Brian Sibley, 2007

AS TINY TIM OBSERVED...

Well, folks, this is my penultimate blog for 2007. Over the past 19 months, I've blogged 628 out of 653 days, as well as 231 posts on my Window Gazing blog, 24 Likely Stories, and 20 essays and snippets on my Ex Libris blog, not to mention helping my little rabbit pal upload 44 posts to his Buttons' Blog.

However -- and, yes, yes, I know I've said all this before! -- when blogging resumes in 2008, it is likely to be an occasional, rather than a daily, offering. The combination of finding material for a new blog every 24 hours combined with a total absence of any work in the foreseeable future means that, in the New Year, I really have to focus my attention on trying to write for money...

Still, may I thank you all for reading and commenting on my blog and I hope we'll continue our conversations - albeit a little less frequently - for a while to come.

Having spent most evenings during the past few weeks listening to the words of Charles Dickens, I thought I'd end this almost-Christmas blog with some lines from the closing paragraphs of his still-magical A Christmas Carol, describing Ebenezer Scrooge after his various reforming encounters with the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future...
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.

Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset... His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him

...And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

And so, as Tiny Tim observed...

God bless Us, Every One!


And that's almost all for now - except that tomorrow there'll be a little Christmas present for you all!

Image: Greg Hale, © 2007

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

THE HUMBUG OF OZ

I've always enjoyed literary pastiches and especially those based on one of my favourite books, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

I was delighted, therefore, when Australian author KEL RICHARDS sent me a copy of his new book, An Aussie Christmas Carol: the story of mean and curmudgeonly old stock and station agent, Ted Scrooge, who one hot and dusty Christmas Eve is haunted by four ghosts who teach him the true spirit of Christmas.

I've only just started reading the saga of Ted Scrooge (it arrived a matter of hours ago), but it opens so well that I'm clearly going to enjoy this Aussie bush yarn and am delighted to be able to add it to my extensive Carol library...

Jack Marley was dead. He was dead and buried in the little cemetery at the end of the main street in the small outback town of Dandaloo. The town doctor had signed the death certificate. The town carpenter had nailed Jack Marley into a plain, wooden coffin - and old Jack hadn't once hammered on the lid and yelled to be let out. So there could be no doubt about it: Jack Marley was dead.

He was as dead as the hopes of a punter when the favourite runs last in the Melbourne Cup. He was as dead as Dandaloo Creek in the middle of summer, when it's nothing but a dried-up gully. He was as dead as the big blue-black blowflies stuck to the flypaper in the Dandaloo pub. He was as dead as the brown snake Bluey Grimnes chopped in half with his mattock when he was digging Marley's grave. There was no doubt about it: Jack Marley was dead.

Brilliant! Kel Richards' An Aussie Christmas Carol can be ordered here.

It is, of course, testimony to Dickens' genius that it has inspired - and continues to inspire - so many successful variations on a theme.

By the same post as brought me the Carol from Oz, came a Christmas stocking from my friend BOLL WEAVIL (thanks, Boll!) which included one of the most economical versions of Dickens' story I have come across. Here it is: A Christmas Carol in ninety words (like Marley) DEAD...
Ebenezer Scrooge was a mean and stingy man. He had no friends. So, he was all alone on Christmas Eve.

That night he was visited by The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmases To Come who told him to be kind to others or he would die a lonely and forgotten man.


The Spirits frightened Scrooge. When he woke up Christmas morning, he ran to the window and shouted, "Merry Christmas!"

From that day on, Scrooge was kind and generous to everyone.
I'm particularly pleased to note that whatever else he was, Scrooge had at least hung on to his teddy bear!

David suggested I ought to take it with me to the theatre tonight and give it to the cast so that everyone could go home early for once!

Meanwhile my dramatisation of the original (and somewhat longer) A Christmas Carol is now almost halfway through it's run at the Greenwich Playhouse and continues to play to delighted audiences. There's still time to book tickets and I've updated the fairly ecstatic reviews we have received - just in case you want to see what you're in for or, if you can't get there, in order to at least be able to enjoy it vicariously!

David Millard and Lucia McAnespie as Mr and Mrs Fezziwig

Image: Fezziwigs by Greg Hale, © 2007

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

XMAS XTERMINATION

My passing reference to Doctor Who yesterday brought forth a predictable (and I have to say justifiable) comment from my friend Irascible Ian who refuses to be swayed by the shameless BBC publicity surrounding the Doctor's current adventures and the excruciatingly excessive hoop-la over his Christmas Day encounter with Kylie Minogue!

Happily, being away, I will miss the programme and whatever disappointment it brings in its wake, but it did prompt me to mention the work of another friend, the artist and illustrator ANDREW SKILLETER, whom I first got to know when he illustrated the audio-cassette boxes for my seven BBC dramatisations of C S Lewis' The Magician's Nephew (above) and the other six 'Chronicles of Narnia'.

Andrew is well-known as the premiere Doctor Who artist and a worthy successor to the great Frank Bellamy, having created numerous book, video and audio covers including several iconic Doctor images, such as the cover art for the Radio Times featuring 'The Five Doctors' as well as classic art featuring the Cybermen...


...and the Doctor's arch-enemies, the Daleks!


It is curious perhaps to favour graphic art over photographic images when the subject matter is a TV series, but I've always thought that the magic and mystery of Doctor Who was better served by the artist than the photographer.

Andrew Skilleter has produced fine art portfolios of his Cyberman and (more recently) Dalek paintings which Dalek Links has described as "awesome" and if you are an 'old school' Who-fan for whom such imagery of the Doctor still bring back fond memories of your early Saturday evening viewing.

You can access the brochure for the Dalek portfolio here for the front and here for the back and this collection (together, possibly, with the Cyberman portfolio) may need to be added as an urgent 'PS' to your Santa wish-list!

Images: © Andrew Skilleter

Monday, 17 December 2007

TOP DOGS

Say what you like about Dr Who, I think what he needs is not Kylie but a DOG! I mean, you could argue that the Doctor hasn't had really faithful and reliable friend since K9 went on the blink...

So, here's a couple of possible contenders...

A 'recycled' hound spotted (and photographed) by Jen Miller in the children's area of Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum in Glasgow (a distant relative of the Perishers' pooch, Boot, perhaps)...


...and a balloon dog by Jeff Koons seen sniffing around the Palazzo Grassi in Venice last December...


Images: Jen Miller and Brian Sibley, © 2007

Sunday, 16 December 2007

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE

Those of you who shop on-line, BEWARE...

Ask and ye shall receive, but what ye receive may not always be what ye expected to receive...


***

In case you missed Penelope Keith's performance of my And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree, you can, as Boll Weavil pointed out in yesterday's comments, hear it on-line from anywhere in the world for the seven days. Here's the link to Listen Again.

I was interested to read on the BB7 Newsletter blog: "This programme is a personal favourite of Penelope Keith's, who drew it to my attention when we launched." Thanks Penny!

Saturday, 15 December 2007

PARTRIDGES & PEAR TREES

Today the BBC is providing listeners with a blast from the Sibley past...

It was back in 1977 - which, heaven help us, is thirty years ago - that I wrote what was only my second programme for radio, but which turned out to be something of a classic. Entitled And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree, it was a quirky take on that well-known song about the seasonal gifts which someone sent to his True Love on the twelve days of Christmas.

It was, I later discovered, not exactly a new joke and it has been re-worked by others since, but it had the distinctive twist of literally following the cumulative list in the lyrics, thus providing the recipient not with one partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens and so on, but with twelve partridges, twenty-two turtle doves, thirty French hens and so forth.

Fresh milk is one thing. Eight enormous Frisians in the drawing room is something else altogether. True, the milkmaids have a certain rustic charm, but you wouldn't believe how much they eat. You may also care to note that my bath has only so much room in it for swans with a seemingly insatiable urge to be a-swimming, and it will definitely not hold fourteen of them. Take that from one who has tried!

I was extremely fortunate in having Penelope Keith (then at the height of her fame as Margot Leadbetter in the wildly successful TV sit-com, The Good Life) to play Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle, the increasingly harassed lady who has to cope with (among other nuisances) forty maids a-milking, thirty-six ladies dancing, thirty lords a-leaping and twenty-two pipers piping...

And Yet Another Partridge
was repeated annually for many years and is still broadcast at Christmas in all kinds of places from America to Australia. In fact, every year I get requests for copies of the broadcast (which unfortunately is not possible because the BBC have never commercially released the programme) and transcripts of Miss Bracegirdle's correspondence.

Anyway, if - like others - you remember this little piece of fluff and would like to hear it again
or if you've never heard it and think it might tickle your funny bone, then TODAY'S the DAY!

BBC 7 is celebrating five years of broadcasting with a day's programming chosen by listeners and Miss Bracegirdle and her Christmas gifts was one of the programmes selected alongside such classic series as Just A Minute, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again and The Men from the Ministry Marsh.

Details here, but essentially the partridges come home to roost at 17.00, 23.00 and (for early risers and later retirers) 06.00 the following morning! I hope you enjoy the experience more than poor Cynthia!

Friday, 14 December 2007

EAT ME!

Walking down Jermyn Street, the other day, I glanced up and noticed the sign for Wiltons Restaurant with its Champagne Charlie Lobster-about-town raising a glass of bubbly in welcome...


I was reminded of those figurines of pigs dressed in butcher's boater and apron (and usually holding a cleaver) which used to populate the windows of butcher's shops when I was a boy. Since then, of course, there have been any number of commercials featuring talking chickens, pigs, sausages, eggs and other foodstuffs. But however amusing the execution, the concept of animals - even lobsters - inviting me to eat them has always made me feel more than a little queasy.


I wonder if vegetarians feel equally uncomfortable about talking vegetables?

Thursday, 13 December 2007

UNDERCOVER CHRISTMAS

It is many months now since I blogged on the topic of underwear, mainly because various people (such as Gill's friend, the Duchess) tend to get a bit steamed up about such posts.

However, the unveiling of David Beckham's first advertisements for Emporio Armani two days ago has promoted me to break this self-imposed taboo...


This image has aroused some controversy with various cyber-sites questioning whether everything shown in the picture actually belongs to Becks or whether he has been 'touched up' by someone other than Victoria. Some have hinted at digital enhancement (which looks ruder written down than when I was typing the words!) or whether we have just been made privy to where the chap keeps his spare soccer socks!

Anyway, while we're on the subject, I thought I'd share with you some curious images from a Christmas catalogue produced by the people at a company called UnderU aimed at promoting seasonal knicker-sales.

There is, I fancy, an encoded tale being hinted at in the pages of this catalogue: a tale that goes something like this...

Ken and Barbie are off to spend Christmas with Ken's old school chum, Dick...


After lunch the three of them gather round the fire to open presents and listen to the Queen's Speech...


In the evening, Ken and Dick enjoy and drink and a game of cards...


Until Barbie gets bored and goes to bed, leaving Ken and Dick to watch the video they recorded earlier of Kylie Minogue on Dr Who and reminisce about their days in the school rugger team...

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

NOT-SO-WILD OATS

Here in the UK, right now, it's pretty damn chilly (0 degrees last evening in Greenwich) and so I've taken to reaching for the packet of instant porridge-oats in the belief (ingrained from a lifetime of seeing Readybrek commercials) that it will give me a warm inner glow akin to a kind of visible radiation!

Also, as an unrepentant lover of puns, it gives me a daily opportunity to smile at a product name that is ridiculously corny but - in a frightfully British Carry-On-to-the-End-of-the-Pier kind way - mildly amusing...


Someone else who has been taking precautions against the cold is my friend Buttons...

Pictures on buttons' blog last winter of him playing in the snow raised concerns for his welfare among several readers.


Regular correspondent, GILL, wrote:

Where are Buttons' gloves and scarf? And wellies? He must have been a very wet, cold rabbit. I shall knit him a scarf immediately!

Gill (President of the Keep A Rabbit Dry Society)

To which Buttons replied:

thank you for your concern, gill, i think i need to join your society as brian and david can be very thoughtless at times... meanwhile, i shall look forward to my scarf; will it be in the society's colours and have a badge on it like harry potters?

And Gill responded:

Please tell Buttons it will certainly be in the Society's colours and have a badge!
Then, a few weeks ago, a surprise package arrived...


To see Buttons in his new winter warmer, visit buttons' blog: a rabbit's ramblings.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

CAROL-SINGING

Reviews of Flat Pack Productions' presentation of my dramatisation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol are OUT...

Forgive the trumpet-blowing, but they really are rather satisfactory!


THE STAGE
Reviewed by Catherine Usher

Rather than letting Ebenezer Scrooge dominate proceedings from the off, it is Charles Dickens (Rufus Graham) who opens the play by reading from the opening pages of his novel.

Rufus Graham as Charles Dickens

From start to finish, it is an enthralling, atmospheric and moving production, brimming with talent and enthusiasm. Other than Eddie McNamee’s tall, threatening-looking Scrooge, the cast portray a variety of characters, from the hard-working and hesitant Bob Cratchit, performed with great sensitivity by Will Tosh, to Scrooge’s beautiful lost love Belle, played as sweet but not saccharine by Rebecca Stoddart...

Rebecca Stoddart as Belle with Eddie McNamee as Scrooge

Among the seemingly endless barrage of brash pantomimes and pretentious Christmas shows, this production of A Christmas Carol stands out as something truly worth seeing.

Don’t let the inclusion of actor-operated puppets to represent Tiny Tim and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future put you off - the concept works perfectly. And Puppet Tim in particular is so convincing, you may even find yourself weeping at the prospect of him not making it to adulthood.

Lucia McAnespie and Phil Mulryne give Tiny Tim a helping hand

Book your ticket today. It really is worth it.

*****

UK Theatre Network
Reviewed by Richard Woulf

Brian Sibley has dramatised A Christmas Carol in a manner I’m sure Dickens would approve of. Ebenezer is as mean in spirit as he is in money. His nephew is a thorough decent lad as is his over-worked and underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit, and his poor but loving family. All in the original Victorian setting.

The two central roles were particularly well-acted. Eddie McNamee is a most-cantankerous Scrooge and Rufus Graham is superb as the soothing voice of the narrator. All the cast put in a strong performance, though, often displaying comic and/or convincing accents.

Lucia McAnespie as the Charwoman and David Millard as Old Joe

Maintaining the pace is director Toria Banks. Considering she has eight actors, a limited space and various puppets to work with, it is no mean achievement to keep our interest throughout. Also worthy of praise are the authentic costumes by Christine Fryers, the aforementioned puppets – the Ghost of Christmas Past and Tiny Tim were my favourites – and the cosy props and set.

Eddie McNamee as Scrooge with the Spirit of Christmas Past

It is the story, of course, that really grabs...

In the spirit of Christmas – “open your shut up heart” and get along to the Greenwich Playhouse.

You can only enjoy it.

*****

IndieLONDON Reviewed by Marcela Olivares

There have been numerous adaptations of this classic Christmas story – but few have moved me as much as the one now playing at Greenwich Playhouse...

This dramatization places particular emphasis on Charles Dickens and how he would have told the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. We actually have the privilege of Dickens’ narrating the story and interacting with Scrooge throughout the play. The emotion in Dickens alongside the development in Scrooge is what drives the production.

We see Ebenezer experience joy, love, shame, fear; yes… plenty of fear… yet never hatred and this is probably why the story ends as it does.

This is not a Christmas Story for the faint hearted, it’s not jolly even though it does have a happy ending… and there’s no singing and no children. Yet, it’s by far the best version of the story I have seen and certainly the most touching!

Eddie McNamee as Scrooge and Phil Mulryne as his nephew, Fred

Even though there are so many characters to play, it was all made possible with a cast of eight talented actors and four puppets.

Dickens and Scrooge were played with extreme emotion by Rufus Graham and Eddie McNamee respectively and they did a superb job… It was a great ensemble of talent!

If you’re planning to see a Christmas story this year, then this is the show to see!

*****

NEWS SHOPPER Reviewed by Karry Anne Eustice

The set for Flat Pack Productions' A Christmas Carol, currently showing at Greenwich Playhouse, is so spare even Scrooge would approve. Still, the space was used with such imagination, the show still felt rich and vivid.

The threadbare presentation of this new dramatisation is mainly down to the aims of scripter Brian Sibley, an author who notably adapted The Lord of the Rings for BBC radio.

He was keen to reinstate the story's dreary Dickensian nature and remind audiences of the grit and poverty Dickens was so keen to expose via his own writing.

To achieve this, Sibley fleshes out a young couple mentioned briefly in the original story who are in debt to Scrooge, plus the bleak scenes of hardship get extra focus.

Helped by the fact there are no glib musical numbers and Dickens (played by Rufus Graham, who has poise to spare) narrates on-stage in a dry, authoritative manner, the show is haunting, serious and has an air of grim sophistication.

It's not forgotten [that] A Christmas Carol is a heartwarming, Victorian morality tale, though.

A cast of eight ensure the classic story of redemption retains its warm and witty heart. Each multi-task, taking on numerous roles (including puppetry) and - although at times this results in unbalanced, occasionally rushed and confused pacing - embody and own each character.

All interact excellently with the delicately-operated puppets, which are creatively used to portray the three ghosts and Tiny Tim.

Kudos to Bek Palmer and Claire Strickland, the designers of the figures, too. Their eerie and haunting faces are a perfect fit for this adaptation.

There's spot-on casting on the Scrooge front in the form of Eddie McNamee, whose towering frame gives the grump suitable menace. It has to be; Scrooge is a character so memorable the name became an adjective for miserliness.

By blending Christmas sentiments and social concerns the Dickens way, this staging proves it's worth picking your own pocket for.

*****

THE SOUTH LONDON PRESS Reviewed by Dan Frost

The production has all the warmth and Christmas cheer of a Fezziwig party. So, if you're not into cross-dressing and screaming kids, say "Bah, humbug" to panto, then head to the Greenwich Playhouse...

*****

THE KENTISH TIMES Reviewed by Mark Campbell

There have been many versions of Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story A Christmas Carol since its first appearance in 1843... Dickens’ criticism of the Victorian class system and its endemic inequality goes hand-in-hand with a powerful tale of guilt and redemption. The latest stage adaptation, now running at the Greenwich Playhouse, is by prolific author Brian Sibley who manages to bring back some of the darkness at the heart of the original novel.

Directed by Toria Banks, this is a fast moving production that makes excellent use of the Playhouse’s small studio space. Christine Fryers’ authentic-looking costumes and David Millard's set designs evoke the period perfectly, while Sibley’s literate adaptation is pleasingly faithful to its source.

As Ebenezer Scrooge, Eddie McNamee is a rotund, no-nonsense Northerner with a droll line in sarcasm - far removed from the elderly, wizened miser more commonly associated with the role, but just as believable.

Will Tosh is Scrooge’s likable junior clerk, the stick-thin Bob Cratchit. Scrooge’s young love Belle is sensitively played by a porcelain beautiful Rebecca Stoddart. And Phil Mulryne makes for a delightfully impish nephew Fred, the complete antithesis of his uncle.

Lucia McAnespie, David Millard and Ruth Tapp play all the other characters with relish, while an aloof Rufus Graham presides over the action as Charles Dickens himself - variously prompt, narrator and social conscience.

The ghosts of the story are represented by Bek Palmer and Claire Strickland’s exquisitely crafted puppets, while the deceased Jacob Marley is played by a masked David Millard as a full-size mannequin crudely manipulated by his fellow actors, an effect that is simultaneously comical and creepy.

But it is the character of Tiny Tim who benefits most from this technique. Instead of a cloyingly sentimental child actor (or simply a bad one), this doe-eyed wooden and cloth creation is far more successful at capturing the audience’s obvious sympathy.

Perfect Christmas entertainment.

*****

THE DOCKLANDS Reviewed by Marina Thomas

The word 'Scrooge' conjures up all sorts of images of a cold-hearted, selfish man. Flat pack Productions' version of A Christmas Carol brought the Victorian tale of morality to life beautifully in a very vivid and lively manner.

Eddie McNamee personified the man who said that Christmas is just another excuse for being lazy perfectly and played Scrooge both in adolescence and adulthood with great tenacity.

Adapter Brian Sibley's skills at creating vivid imagery of a wintery scene gave the production gusto and it was also the added character of Dickens that helped make this a special play. Dickens is not just a narrator but also a character, a host, puppet-master and conjurer - setting the scene, introducing many characters and leading the audience through the unusual events of an unforgettable Christmas Eve.

The play was a delight to watch and the characters all interacted faultlessly, putting together a very strong performance, which took you right back to Victorian London...

*****

musicOHM.com Reviewed by Adam Dobson

Flat Pack Productions have renewed A Christmas Carol at the Greenwich Playhouse, and in doing so have set themselves a lofty goal.

Brian Sibley’s adaptation seeks to preserve, in the dramatist’s own words, Dickens’ “intense emotional involvement with the business of saving Scrooge’s soul.” And so we find Rufus Graham cast as Charles himself, walking amongst his characters in order to impart advice. He scolds and chastises, he embraces and comforts; it’s hardly a new device, but it refreshes a tale which – even for the most dedicated festive crackpot – is potentially too familiar.

Graham cuts an amiable figure, ushering us from scene to scene on reassuring arm. Events are never allowed to settle, and the production thus maintains a pleasing and fluid pace.

Like so many childhood fairy-tales, Scrooge is a mediation on loss – and by extension death. A joyous recollection of youth must be, by necessity, tinged with a profound sadness; these scenes are beyond retrieval, they cannot be repeated. Indeed, repetition can only estrange. Roland Barth├ęs described this as a torment peculiar to the photograph, but it can certainly be applied to this brand of melancholia on the stage.

Scrooge is confronted with images from his boyhood, images of a time when the currency of his life is yet to be spent. It is a situation to which he cannot return; worse yet, his reserves are almost exhausted. Perhaps this explains the miser’s scrimping. It is life he is hoarding, and his initial existence is in no way living.

McNamee’s miser is textbook-Scrooge, save for a delightful ability to pout. It’s remarkable how regressive a hung-lip can appear how evocative; a story need not be convoluted or complex to be cathartic, and a facial-tick can make or break a performance. It makes it.


Not that it’s all tears and soul-searching. When it comes to portraying the more ineffable characters – the Christmas apparitions, the diminutive Tiny Tim – Flat Pack have opted for masks and puppetry.

If the decision not to represent the ghouls in human-form is a concerted ‘looking-away’ from mortality, it is precisely in this denial that Scrooge is to find his salvation. You can’t take it with you, and the act of preservation is itself wasteful.

But, for all my pompous psychobabble, the puppets are – above all – great fun. More than anywhere, Flat Pack’s love is evident here. Their deployment will delight child and adult alike – not that we should feel the need to make a distinction, as this production, as mature as it is adolescent, strives to teach us.

*****


PLAYS & PLAYERS Reviewed by Clive Burton

Brian Sibley’s dramatisation of A Christmas Carol returns to the dark heart of Dickens’ story and, in doing so, gives it a strong new heart of its own in the persona of the Victorian author himself.

On stage (in various guises during an evening which sees the small and energetic cast assuming a number of roles) Rufus Graham projects Dickens’ warmth towards his fellow man and genuine sense of compassion in a performance that emphasises his intense personal involvement with the business of saving Scrooge’s soul.

He starts by reading from his own book, a book that ‘attempts to raise a ghost of an idea’ - a ghost which Sibley has animated with the very spirit of Victorian times - and remains a powerful presence, slipping with seamless grace and convincing ease into and out of the action throughout the evening.

In a lively cast, he shares particular honours with Will Tosh as Bob Cratchit, whose stoicism after the death of his son, Tiny Tim, is particularly touching: all the more so because Tim is a beautifully-realised puppet.

Will Tosh and Ruth Tapp as Bob and Sally Cratchit

Under the brisk direction of Toria Banks, Sibley’s very particular take on the story matches the white-hot zeal which Dickens instilled into his own writing and skilfully manages to convey the real-life situations of the original novella convincingly on the small stage.

Eddie McNamee’s Scrooge negotiates the journey from heartless misanthrope to caring benefactor with just the right amount of credibility.

*****

LONDON ESSENCE Reviewed by Caroline Dubanchet

First, find the theatre. Go through the pub of the same name, climb a few steps and sit down directly in front of the platform. And let the charm of Christmas express itself through the words of Charles Dickens.

This adaptation by Flat Pack Productions of the most evocative novel of Victorian Christmas works wonderfully in this small local theatre. A cast of eight actors, led by Charles Dickens telling the tale of Christmas and guiding the characters through the story. And the puppets! With poignant expressions; the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future are both a tragic and benevolent presence.

The acting is exceptional; the setting is dynamic and rhythmic. The configuration of the theatre means that one finds oneself caught up in this spectral whirlpool, witness of the metamorphosis of the odious Scrooge; tormented by the spirits of Christmas. One leaves the theatre with one’s hand on one’s heart, with the desire to succumb to the magic of Christmas.

And, from the blogosphere...

One or two snippets from a long and highly entertaining account of the show by The Greenwich Phantom that (if you really can't get there) is probably the nearest thing to being there:

Scrooge is a triumph - both furious and funny at the same time - I bet he's played Malvolio a few times... His fabulous pomposity is offset by the gravitas of Dickens himself (a character-addition that could have backfired badly but doesn't) who follows the characters around like a fourth ghost. The supporting cast charges around (and I mean charges around - personally I would have removed the Blakies in their shoes on that wooden floor) being all the other characters. Not one of them lets down the pace or the feel and despite the cast-of-thousands character changes, there is never any doubt who anyone is.

Will Tosh as Bob Cratchit and Eddie McNamee as Scrooge

It's an unsentimental production - despite the sugary qualities of the original - not a sprig of holly in sight - and yet, somehow, it manages to bring a deep sensation of good cheer to a cold loft of a theatre. And, a good thing, given the proximity of the cast to the audience, it bears up well to close inspection. The ghosts, each of them puppets, are deeply creepy and affecting - as is young Tiny Tim, who is in no way 'cute.' His puppet is, frankly, a bit scary - and yet it works - we care about this tiny, ugly figure, because the actors do.

I have no idea how they manage to put on a show of this quality in a theatre this small, but hey - I'm not going to delve too deep. I thoroughly recommend you take a chance and get a ticket for this festive-without-being-cloying seasonal show. Probably a bit scary for tiny tots, older children should be fine - and it's good grown-up fare too.


And here's part of what my friend Irascible Ian (and therefore a not entirely dispassionate reviewer!) said of the show:

To be honest, it's a production I went to see more because it was an adaptation by my friend Brian Sibley, than because it was something I felt I really needed to see: Greenwich is not the most central location (although thankfully, the theatre is right next to the main station) and A Christmas Carol is hardly an unfamiliar piece, trotted out on TV, DVD and in the theatre every December (there are three theatrical productions in London alone this year I believe). My mistake, because as it turned out this excursion turned out to be a genuine highlight of my cultural excursions in 2007: the production is genuinely new, innovative, exciting, fast-paced, and really, really magical!

Brian has taken a very familiar story and given it a new spin by making Dickens himself an integral part of the play. There's an emphasis on the social problems of the times in new scenes that I haven't seen in other versions, and some scenes that are so moving that several audience members could be seen dabbing their eyes at certain times in the production. No matter how familiar you are with the story, you'll find something new here.

The Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the true meaning of the season

The production itself is superb. The cast make excellent use of a small, but modern, space that gives an intimacy that just isn't there in West End productions. The staging, use of props, and use of puppets for the ghosts and the wonderful 'Tiny Tim' make this an incredibly complex production to perform, and I would imagine a complete nightmare to direct. And yet the small cast of eight manage complex changes and direction flawlessly, while all the time giving believable, real performances. The actors are all professionals, if not household names, and I can't remember a time where I saw a theatrical cast work so hard, or witnessed such a consistently high standard from every member of the cast. In short, it's a real family treat, and a 'must see' this Christmas.

Images: Brian Sibley and David Weeks, © 2007

Monday, 10 December 2007

GOD SPEAKS! EXCLUSIVE!

After writing about God's movie career the other day, I found my way to what is clearly an important document for those who have (wrongly) assumed that God has given up direct communication with his creation...

The Louie/God Interviews: What the Big Fella Really Thinks About Man and the Universe is the result of a scoop of an exclusive interview with The Supreme Being conducted by writer Louie Lawent.

Louie grills The Supreme Being about his checkered career, covering the Almighty's propensity for smiting, evolution, pop culture and the fact that God believes Himself to be the victim of a disinformation campaign. He also reveals whether or not aliens really did land at Roswell; which Hollywood director He would choose to direct His life story; His favorite political joke and His pet peeves? For example...

Louie: What is your real opinion of people?

God: They're like radio songs that are fine for the car ride home, but you'd never purchase them to be part of your master collection.

Here are a few more quotes straight from the Deity's mouth:

Louie: The theories of relativity confuse me. If a person travels at the speed of light, is the running time of an Adam Sandler movie shorter than if a person were traveling slower than the speed of light?

God: No, both experiences would register as off the charts infinite torture in the mind's eye.

***

Louie: How many times did you create the universe?

God: Numerous. As a creator I didn't want to toy, but the focus groups were brutal. Their concerns were about inanities such as light and shadow and the periods of time between a comet's visibility. So to prove I was a flex God, I relented. However, make no mistake, I only go so far. I'm a bend but not break God.

***

Louie: Given that the universe is 13 billion years old, how did it take you so long to come up with man?

God: Who's to say I didn't create previous universes where I went fast and man turned out even worse than today's version. Maybe I gave up on the Microsoft approach and worked the bugs out before the release date.

***

Louie: Did the "God only helps those who help themselves" quote come from you or was it falsely attributed to you by others?

God: This was a direct quote. I was sick of being the welfare God, the Santa Claus wish list God. The Neanderthals were the inspiration behind it, asking for the stoning of the best loin of saber tooth tiger. Of course I didn't say my quote to them. They couldn't write and were terrible with oral histories so I filed it away for modern man but it gave me a kick in the pants to speed the Neanderthal demise.

***

Louie: How do sinners plead their case to you?

God: They insist that I'm taking their sins out of context.


***

Louie: What's one of your biggest challenges?

God: Encrypted sins.

***

Louie: What else bothers you?

God: When I'm accused of not being user-friendly.

***

Louie: What's a little-known fact about you.

God: I put virtual reality ketchup on my steak.

Louie: Why?

God: It's a cultural thing - the way I raised myself.


***

The Louie/God Interviews: What the Big Fella Really Thinks About Man and the Universe is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

What's the weather like near you? I only ask, because we've been having rather a lot of rain and a couple of folk were raising questions about the story of the Flood and Noah's Ark.

Tales about extensive - even civilization threatening - floods proliferate throughout world mythology and many of these stories have elements (if you pardon the pun) in common with the saga of Noah's voyage.

Such myths exist in many ancient cultures including Greek, Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Chaldean. Just about every corner of Europe boasts similar stories: from Scandinavia to Transylvania and there are accounts of floods involving boats, rafts and arks in the mythologies of countries as diverse as India, China, Africa, Alaska and Australasia.

You can read more about some of these stories on Mark Isaak's absorbing Flood Stories from Around the World page of The TalkOrigins Archive (Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy). Or for a shorter version of things (with pictures but fewer fascinating details) check out Wikipedia's entry on Deluge (Mythology) .

Meanwhile, here's a celebrated monologue written in 1932 by Marriott Edgar and famously performed by Stanley Holloway - with apologies to those for whom the Lancashire dialect and reference to pre-decimal coinage are problematical!

Three Ha'pence a Foot

I'll tell you an old-fashioned story
That Grandfather used to relate,
Of a joiner and building contractor;
'Is name, it were Sam Oglethwaite.

In a shop on the banks of the Irwell,
Old Sam used to follow 'is trade,
In a place you'll have 'eard of, called Bury;
You know, where black puddings is made.

One day, Sam were filling a knot 'ole
Wi' putty, when in thro' the door
Came an old feller fair wreathed i' whiskers;
T'ould chap said 'Good morning, I'm Noah.'

Sam asked Noah what was 'is business,
And t'old chap went on to remark,
That not liking the look of the weather,
'E were thinking of building an Ark.

'E'd gotten the wood for the bulwarks,
And all t'other shipbuilding junk,
And wanted some nice Bird's Eye Maple
To panel the side of 'is bunk.

Now Maple were Sam's Mon-o-po-ly;
That means it were all 'is to cut,
And nobody else 'adn't got none;
So 'e asked Noah three ha'pence a foot.

'A ha'pence too much,' replied Noah,
'Penny a foot's more the mark;
A penny a foot, and when rain comes,
I'll give you a ride in me Ark.'




But neither would budge in the bargain;
The whole daft thing were kind of a jam,
So Sam put 'is tongue out at Noah,
And Noah made 'long Bacon' at Sam.

In wrath and ill-feeling they parted,
Not knowing when they'd meet again,
And Sam had forgot all about it,
'Til one day it started to rain.

It rained and it rained for a fortni't,
And flooded the 'ole countryside.
It rained and it kep' on raining,
'Til the Irwell were fifty miles wide.

The 'ouses were soon under water,
And folks to the roof 'ad to climb.
They said 'twas the rottonest summer
That Bury 'ad 'ad for some time.

The rain showed no sign of abating,
And water rose hour by hour,
'Til the only dry land were at Blackpool,
And that were on top of the Tower.

So Sam started swimming to Blackpool;
It took 'im best part of a week.
'Is clothes were wet through when 'e got there,
And 'is boots were beginning to leak.

'E stood to 'is watch-chain in water,
On Tower top, just before dark,
When who should come sailing towards 'im
But old Noah, steering 'is Ark.

They stared at each other in silence,
'Til Ark were alongside, all but,
Then Noah said: 'What price yer Maple?'
Sam answered: 'Three ha'pence a foot.'

Noah said 'Nay; I'll make thee an offer,
The same as I did t'other day.
A penny a foot and a free ride.
Now, come on, lad, what does tha' say?'

'Three ha'pence a foot,' came the answer.
So Noah 'is sail 'ad to hoist,
And sailed off again in a dudgeon,
While Sam stood determined, but moist.

Noah cruised around, flying 'is pigeons,
'Til fortieth day of the wet,
And on 'is way back, passing Blackpool,
'E saw old Sam standing there yet.










'Is chin just stuck out of the water;
A comical figure 'e cut.
Noah said: 'Now what's the price of yer Maple?'
Sam answered: 'Three ha'pence a foot.'

Said Noah: 'Ye'd hest take my offer;
It's last time I'll he hereabout;
And if water comes half an inch higher,
I'll happen get Maple for nought.'

'Three ha'pence a foot it'll cost yer,
And as fer me,' Sam said, 'don't fret.
The sky's took a turn since this morning;
I think it'll brighten up yet.'

Images: 'The Deluge' by Gustav Dore; 'Three Ha'pence a Foot' by John Hassall