Tag Archives: joseph attenborough

Making secret plans and clever tricks a reality – my week with the Roald Dahl Company

Back in September 2018 I was invited to the central London offices of The Roald Dahl Company to discuss my work with “The Twits”.  Then, after seeing me in action, the company agreed that they would permit me to tell Roald Dahl’s “The Enormous Crocodile”.

“The Enormous Crocodile” is a brilliantly brutal story which is perhaps pitched toward a slightly younger age group than “The Twits”.  It’s all about a greedy crocodile who decides to leave the big, brown, muddy river hoping to find fat, juicy little children to eat.  As he heads to town he meets other jungle creatures who are appalled by his secret plans and clever tricks and set out to stop him.  Once he reaches the town the crocodile takes on all manner of disguises as he tries to fool the children he meets into becoming his lunch but in the end Trunky the Elephant delivers the crocodile’s just desserts as he throws him into the hot, hot sun where the crocodile sizzles up like a sausage.    

I got started on the project in the autumn knowing that I wanted to launch the story around World Book Day and that we were trying to moving house.  Roald Dahl is a master storyteller and my first draft of “The Enormous Crocodile” wrote itself with very little manipulation on my part.  The story’s quite short with quite a simple structure.  Like “The Twits” I feel there are two distinct halves to it; the walk through the jungle and the four clever tricks.  This and the fact the crocodile meets so many different animals would become the biggest challenges to the eventual presentation of the story.

By January I had a draft of the story and a completion date – two days before the start of rehearsals!  So it fell out like this; the Tuesday before we were due to start rehearsing I was in Derby to visit a school and go over the music with Joey, returning to London on Wednesday.  The Thursday was Verity’s birthday (aptly spent at London Zoo) and on the Friday before the Tuesday we moved house.  My first day of rehearsals was my first commute from Sussex and a journey that the previous week had taken 30 minutes took 3 hours because of rail problems.  After a chaotic week I made it to Roald Dahl HQ and entered the wonderful world of Roald Dahl.

Since meeting The Roald Dahl Company, they have been tremendously supportive of my work and offered not just their rehearsal room but paired me with professional director and dramaturg Amy Hodge (literally just back from opening a play at the Manchester Exchange Theatre and scheduled to work with The National Theatre later in the year).  I’m happy to admit that after 10 years of working more or less alone I was a bit nervous about how things might go but I needn’t have worried; in our time together Amy showed herself to be one of the singly most incredible theatre practitioners I have ever met; her input would be as an outside eye, sounding boarding, co-conspirator and confidant and it was such a privilege to breathe air with her for a few days.

So rehearsals started on the Tuesday morning and we had two days (about 12 hours) to create a presentation of the story using the contents of my suitcase.  It was a blissfully creative process, sharing ideas, problem solving and picking apart this much loved tale to produce something highly visual and interactive.  I have already highlighted the major challenges of the piece; it’s a story of two halves with multiple conversing characters.  It was agreed that the two halves of the story would look different.  The first half would be me on my own and the second half would include the audience more.  Amy helped me to re-evaluate my method of storytelling and out of it came a very simple puppetry which means I can bring several characters alive simultaneously without the need for constantly throwing hats on and off.  The end result is clear, playful storytelling.

After two very exciting days we reconvened in Wembley to do a pilot presentation to a public audience.  Unlike the pilot I did for Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief last year, this one was very successful.  The audience were attentive, they laughed in the right places and at the end there were no negative comments.

It was a fantastic week and whilst I am very excited to have had this opportunity I can’t help but feel a little daunted at the task of trying to get the story seen by as many children as possible.  Great storytelling demands to be seen and this really is great storytelling.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be able to quietly consolidate the story before a series of public events and festivals later in the year and by then I am sure I will feel much more confident about the story’s future.

So there you have it, how in a very short space of time secret plans and clever tricks have become a reality of real quality.  I’m eternally grateful to The Roald Dahl Company, Amy Hodge, Joseph Attenborough and Dan White for this wonderful image.  “I love it when a plan comes together” and I look forward to seeing how this plan develops in the coming weeks and months.

The Enormous Crocodile is available to schools, libraries and literature festivals nationwide.  For more information contact me.

The Enormous Crocodile with the Roald Dahl Company

In September I was invited to meet with the Roald Dahl Company in central London to discuss the work I had been doing with “The Twits” over the past two years.  They wanted to know more about my version of the story and we discussed access and how storytelling could help Dahl’s work reach more people.  To walk into Roald Dahl HQ and to talk about stories was one of the biggest thrills of my life.  I had been worried about the meeting having had some issues with the licence earlier in the year but from that very first meeting Roald Dahl team have been very supportive.  In late September a producer from the company came along to watch me perform in north London.  This presentation became the basis for discussing a new project for next year.

“I’ve got clever plans and special tricks.”

I am pleased to announce that in 2019 with the support of The Roald Dahl Company I’ll be telling Roald Dahl’s “The Enormous Crocodile”.  This is a tremendous opportunity to tell a popular, short story by perhaps this country’s most celebrated author and to engage and inspire a very young audience (probably four year olds rather than the six year olds who loved The Twits, Hundred Mile an Hour Dog and The Chamber of Mischief) in stories and reading.  It’ll also be a chance for professional reflection and development as I see inside and learn from a very respected, high calibre creative organisation.  In the coming weeks I’ll be allowed access to some of the Company’s resources as we work up this story and revise my presentation of The Twits.  For the first time since my last theatrical bow in 2007 I’ll be part of a larger creative team which includes Joseph Attenborough as composer, Dan White as artist and excitingly, Amy Hodge who will act as dramaturg, director and co-conspirator.  I can’t wait to get started!

I’ll be launching the story in March and will announce more dates for both The Enormous Crocodile and The Twits in the coming weeks.  If you know a potential venue please tell them about the project.  I’m hoping that libraries and literature festivals will want me to visit to tell this story but I’m also interested in talking to reception class teachers, primary schools and primary academy trusts who feel their schools could be venues for larger multi school presentations and public showings as I try to find new ways of making this story accessible to the most possible people.

I hope this is a story gets everybody excited and that 2019 can be the year of the crocodile!

Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief #dennis2018

I am pleased to announce that I will be telling Nigel Auchterlounie’s Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief this summer.  This isn’t just exciting because it’s Dennis the Menace but because it’s a brand new title being released by Beano Studios and Templar Books in May 2018 and they are entrusting it to me.

Below is a list of presentations which includes libraries and literature festivals.  The eagle eyed will notice that this year I’ll be doing a full week in London with further dates in the East Midlands and more work than ever in the North West.

I am also pleased to announce that Joseph Attenborough will be creating another original composition for the story and I’ll be sharing a poster for the summer created by Dan White on this website soon.

We are still three months away from the first date and there is still a lot of work to be done but I’m hoping that we can deliver something very special for the summer.  To keep up to date on how I get on use the hashtag #dennis2018 when searching for the project.

The Big Malarkey in Hull –  24/6/18

Manchester Libraries – 27-28/6/18

Oldham Libraries – 4/7/18

Sefton Libraries – 5-6/7/18

Wirral Libraries – 9/7/18

St Helens Libraries – 10/7/18

Brentwood Children’s Literary Festival 2018 – 24/7/18

Thurrock Libraries – 25/7/18

Southend Libraries – 25/7/18

Derby City Libraries – 31/7/18

Redbridge Libraries – 2/8/18

Westminster Libraries – 3/8/18

Hackney Libraries – 7/8/18

Brent Libraries – 8-9/8/18

Kensington Libraries – 10/8/18

Cheshire East Libraries – 13-14/8/18

Cheshire West Libraries – 15-16/8/18

Rutland Libraries – 21/8/18

Nottingham City Libraries – 22/8/18

Luton Libraries – 23/8/18

Bexley Libraries – 28/8/18

Trafford Libraries – 15/9/18

Bolton Libraries – 6/10/18

2017:the summer that zipped by at 100mph

So the six week holidays are coming to an end and another Summer Reading Challenge is drawing to its conclusion.  Once again thousands of young people have participated as readers and volunteers in libraries across Britain and once again I have played my small part in launching, enhancing and celebrating the challenge through storytelling.

This year my major project was Jeremy Strong’s “The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog”, a silly story about one boy’s efforts to train his chaotic pet.  I first presented the story in libraries in June and by the end of the summer between myself and Dan McGarry will have presented it over 80 times to just over 2500 people.  I have also been presenting Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.

I have had a very good summer and a lot of people have said a lot of very nice things about my work (I’ve met lots of lovely people, worked in a couple of new areas and for the first time I have been receiving reviews on Facebook).  This has been very flattering but I feel it’s really me that needs to thank people for their contributions to what must be classed as a successful project.

Lauren and Verity – I love you both and I’m looking forward to a family holiday; you deserve it.

Jeremy Strong and David Higham Associates – the author of this fantastically silly story and his agents has been a very active supporters of the project and their encouragement and flexibility has been important.

Dan McGarry – I can’t take credit for all the presentations.  In Northamptonshire sessions were delivered at all but two libraries and Dan brought his unique twist to the presentation of the story.

Joseph Attenborough – this is the fourth project where Joey supplied an original soundtrack for me to work with.  Whilst some would say music is unnecessary I say the music is a vital contribution, setting the tone of the story and the atmosphere at key moments.

Dan White – another valued contributor, Dan’s image of Streaker at full speed has appeared in libraries across the country (at one stage it dominated my twitter timeline almostly entirely!) and has really helped to attract an audience to the project.

The Libraries – we can have the best project ever but without library staff support nobody would come.  This year more than any other it has become clear just how crucial good library staff and their relationship with service users is in building a suitable audience for events.  I have discussed advertising in this blog before and once again word of mouth proved the best way of drawing a crowd.

The service users – my style of storytelling relies upon interaction and participation (if you come to my event I’m going to spray you with water and stick a silly wig on your head).  It has been brilliant to see young people at my events up and down the country willing to get involved in my madness with good humour.  It has also been great to see so many people who I met in 2016 whilst doing Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” returning to hear about Streaker.  As one storyteller said to me, this is the ultimate compliment.

One of the privileges and pleasures of this year’s Reading Challenge for me has been talking to people about stories and books and recommending new and old stories to children.  It is quite easy to become consumed by the logistics of delivering events at multiple venues (believe me, it’s a mammoth task) and lose sight of what it’s all about; the pleasure of reading.

I’m not going to lie, there have been mornings when my body has told me that I’m no longer in my twenties and there have been late nights when I have felt desperately guilty for leaving Lauren literally holding the baby but I have enjoyed it and have already started work on next year’s challenge.

For now though I’m preparing for the new school year.  I do have some more reading challenge dates into the autumn and then some more public appearances into the winter including a couple of small festivals.  Keep an eye on my website and I’ll look forward to continuing to share my work and any developments with you here soon.   For now though, Streaker and I are off to pick out a sun lounger on a Spanish beach!

#100mphdog

Things are coming together nicely for the summer tour of Jeremy Strong’s “The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog” and today I thought I’d share the poster image.

We are doing 99 presentations of  the story (I say we because these days its a team effort; Joseph Attenborough has agreed to create the soundtrack, the poster image for the project was created by Dan White and Dan McGarry is doing some presentations for me this summer so that I can have some time with my new family).  The dates are now up on the website so have a nose through and see if we’ll be passing your neck of the woods.

To keep in touch with what we get up to I’ll be using the hashtag #100mphdog on social media between June and October 2017.  I look forward to seeing you this summer!