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Alexander Pope: A Search For Perfection Is Back!

After a sold out run at Pope’s Grotto and Twickenham Library, Alexander Pope: A Search For Perfection is back! I will be performing the show at The Old Sorting Office in Barnes on 13th October – tickets are now on sale here.

Pope is a poet I avoided at Uni because his idea of poetry is so different to ours now – despite my father being a fan! Creating this show was intense and I’m so glad I did because he is truly inspirational. Imagine, a chronically and critically disabled man, an outsider to English society (he was Catholic) whose formal education stopped at 12 who nonetheless managed by sheer brilliance to make himself central to English cultural and intellectual life, a midget who remains a giant of English Literature?! It’s all true – come and hear his extraordinary story.

Here’s a little preview to get you in the mood…


1. Alexander Pope: A Search For Perfection clip - Giles Abbott     

But if you can’t make 13th October I’ll be back with the show next year at the National Portrait Gallery on 18th May and at the Twickenham Festival in June. For ticket details and further dates keep an eye out on Facebook, Twitter and of course, this blog (and if you’ve not subscribed there’s a handy box for that…).

Hope to see you there!

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Tickets On Sale for AO Hume – The Unseen Force, at the National Portrait Gallery

Tickets are now on sale for another gig I’m very excited about! At 7pm, on Thursday 11th August I shall be in the National Portrait Gallery on St Martins Lane as part of their Late Shift programme. I performed Tongues Of Flame for them last year and it’s such a fantastic place to tell stories! While I work with the words, all around me the portraits of the great and lofty dead look on patiently. And they are such good listeners… To book tickets visit here.

On this occasion I’ll be telling the story of possibly the greatest Englishman you’ve never heard about – Allan Octavian Hume. A.O Hume – The Unseen Force is the story of a man who, when still young, began his career as a Civil Servant working in India for the Raj. He was tasked with extracting maximum profit for the British Empire from India. But Hume was altogether too good a man to simply do that. He fell in love with India and Indian culture and began to work hard for the interests of Victoria’s Indian subjects. He was not doing this for show, indeed, he had to be discrete, because he began to work directly against the interests of Queen and country. Hume had to be an unseen force. He was, and spectacularly so; he helped change both British and Indian history.

I will be aided in my telling by Nafees Ihrfan, a tabla virtuoso. You will hear him play, but you won’t be able to see his fingers move! I’m really excited about this – I love tabla and it’s going to add so much to the story. For a little taster of his work you can listen here.

We will be performing in Room 20, which is filled with portraits of people connected to British rule in India. But where is A O Hume’s portrait? Ah, come along and I’ll tell you.

Story is a great way of sharing history, and his story is great enough to share – do come! You can hear the beginning of an earlier version of this story, commissioned by the South London Botanical Institute, which Hume founded in his retirement in Norwood, and recorded at Resonance FM,  below.

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FREE Family Storytelling over the Summer Holidays!

Indian Fairy Tales, William Morris GalleryAt 11am on Weds 27th July, I start a new six week residency telling stories at the beautiful William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. Never been? It’s a beautiful large house set in wide parkland, dedicated to the great Victorian artist, designer, writer and fabric connoisseur. Now, William Morris believed that the finest fabric in the world came from India, hence the theme of this season: Indian Fairy Tales. From 11am – 11.45am every Wednesday from 27th July until 24th August, come and join me as I weave the mysteries of the Ramayana – a magical tale about the love of Rama and Sita, the demon Ravana, and Hanuman the Monkey God. There will be magic, silliness and a chance for listeners to shape the story or even make up together a new one!

When I was last at William Morris Gallery, I was telling African stories. Here is what one of my listeners, Halima Noorie Wahid Hakim, aged 6½ wrote in the cafe afterwards:

Halima Noorie Wahid Hakim's story

She told her mum  “there is no the end because people have to imagine the rest like African stories.”

Ahh, the power of storytelling… So what will you imagine?

And don’t forget this session is free! Just bring a child (preferably your own). For further information click here.

G ;{~

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June and July Storytelling News, London, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Shropshire, East Anglia

This is a biggie! For your convenience I’ll simply list them by date first so you can scroll quickly, and then more info will follow below. Ready? (big breath…)

Monday 30th May, 1pm and 6pm
Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham
“Alexander Pope – A Search For Perfection”

Fri 3rd June 7pm
Matlock Storytelling Cafe, Matlock, Derbyshire
“Mongan’s Frenzy” Booking details here

Sunday 5th June 7pm
Brompton Cemetery Chapel, London
“Tales Of Transformation” Booking details here

Sunday 12th June 7pm and 9pm
The Viktor Wynd Museum Of Curiosities, Mare Street, Hackney, London,
“Mermaid Tails” Booking details here

Saturday 18th June, 10am to 3pm on the hour and half hour
Radnor House School, Pope’s Villa, Cross Deep, Twickenham
“Alexander Pope – A Search For Perfection” 20min version. Booking details here

Weds 22 June 10am to 12pm
Explore York Library, York, Yorkshire
“Discover Your Natural Voice – a Workshop” Booking details here

Weds 22 June, 7pm
Explore York Library, York, Yorkshire,
“Mongan’s Frenzy” Booking details here

Friday 24 June, 7pm
Shaggy Dog Storytelling Club, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
“Patched & Mended” Booking details here

Saturday 25th 10am to 3pm on the hour and half hour
Radnor House School, Pope’s Villa, Cross Deep, Twickenham
“Alexander Pope – A Search For Perfection” 20min version. Booking details here

Monday 4th July 7pm
Twickenham Library, Twickenham
“Alexander Pope – A Search For Perfection” (full version) Booking details here

Sunday 10th July 7pm and 9pm
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Hackney, London
“Cock Tales” Booking details here

Saturday 16th July
as part of Festival At The Edge Friday 15th to Sunday 17th July
Stokes Barn, nr Much Wenlock, Shropshire
“Discover Your Natural Voice – a Workshop” Festival details here

Friday 22 to Sunday 24 July
East Anglian Storytelling Festival
MCing, family telling, voice workshop, adult telling. Festival details here

Weds 27 July 11am to 12pm
William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow, London
“Indian Fairy Tales” Free event, details here

Saturday 30 July 2.15pm – 3.15pm
The Globe Theatre, Southwark, London
as part of the Telling Tales Festival – “Shakespearean StoryMaking”
a participatory workshop for visually-impaired children. Festival details here

Ok, that’s the bare details so now you know what you’re interested in, what’s within reach. More details now if you want them…

Alexander Pope – A Search For Perfection” is my new Arts Council England supported work. Commissioned by Pope’s Grotto Preservation Trust this 45 minutes (-ish!) celebrates the life and achievement of the 18th century English poet Alexander Pope. An outcast from society on two grounds, one his Catholicism and the other his terrible disability, Pope nonetheless became the most celebrated writer of his age. This story is his story. There is a version for adults which I’m doing twice at Orleans House on Monday 30 May and once for Twickenham Library on 4th July. For Twickenham Festival at Radnor House School there will be a shorter, more family-friendly version running for 20mins on the hour and on the half hour from 10am – 3pm. It’s been called “wonderful memorable storytelling” and if you can’t catch it this year, it’ll be running again in 2017.

“Morgan’s Frenzy”, which I’m telling in Matlock on Fri 3rd June and in York on 22 June is a magical, mysterious, sometimes slapstick and deeply moving wonder tale, the story of a man raised and educated by the Gods but who completes his wisdom in this world, taught him in the only way this world can teach wisdom, through pain. It’s a stunning story and one of my favourites. 2 x 45 minutes (-ish!)

In Brompton Cemetery Chapel for “A Curious Invitation” I will be telling Tales Of Transformation. “A Curious Invitation” have curated a day of talks about Magus’ such as Dr John Dee, Aleister Crowley and others. I shall be telling stories on the theme of magical transformation in a beautiful chapel in a beautiful cemetery. I plan this visit to be temporary.

On 12th June it’s time again for my popular “Stories On A Sunday” sessions at the Museum Of Curiosities in Mare Street, Hackney which is also a wonderful cocktail bar. There is a real mermaid in the Museum, or at least a real fake, and I’m telling British Mermaid Tales. The 7pm session has one seat left! There are a more available for the 9pm sitting but they’ll be gone in the flick of a mermaid’s tail. And the stories? Haunting, tragic, romantic, scary.

Sunday 18th June is the start of a wonderful and insane week! Kicking off in Radnor House School, on the site of what used to be Alexander Pope’s villa, I will be performing rolling tellings of a shortened version of the Alexander Pope – A Search For Perfection story. Then, it’s on the train to Yorkshire where, for York Explore Library on Wednesday 21st June  I shall be running a three hour voice workshop suitable to voice users of no and of considerable experience. You will hear yourself as you have never heard yourself before! It’s dynamic, effective and great fun!

That same day, at 7pm, I shall perform “Mongan’s Frenzy”. Then on Thursday I’m going to mosey slowly from the Vale of York to Calderdale in West Yorkshire, where I lived for 7 years and where I began my trade as a Storyteller. On Friday 24th June I’m performing for the club where, in 1999, I had my first experience of traditional storytelling. Where I fell in love, in other words. Shaggy Dog Storytellers, the club who started me off, have been flooded out of their usual home and all I know about this gig is it’s in a mill next to the railway station. If you’re local I’m sure you’ll know where that is! If not, folk are very helpful! I’m telling “Patched & Mended”, a story which starts in the Mabinogion and the tale of how the land of Dyfed is cursed and then how the victims respond to this disaster. I open a second thread in which I explore how anyone of us can respond to disaster, this thread rooted in, but not limited to, my own experience of sight-loss and chronic illness. Doesn’t sound like a feel good story, perhaps, but trust me, it really is! That’s 45 mins and they’ve asked me to do another 45 mins of whatever I fancy. So I shall.

Then I have to grab my bag and shift to the train station to get the last train to Halifax and a night bus, not to Cairo, but to London, because I start the rolling Popating again at 10am on Saturday 25th, 20mins, on the hour and half hour till 3pm. Who does my diary management, I hear you cry? Me, and of course it was a sight-related oversight (or underweight?). I can do it though. Just don’t contact me on Sunday – I shall be under the table in a cardboard box filled with straw.

On Monday 4th of July at 7pm, suitably rested, it’s the full grown up version of “Alexander Pope” in Twickenham Library.

On Friday 10th it’s “Stories On A Sunday” again at the Viktor Wynd Museum. The 7pm session sold out today but the 9pm session has only just been opened. The theme for July is “Cock Tales”. Well, it’s a cocktail bar upstairs, so why not have a narrative celebration of cockerels and some everyday stories of poulterer folk? The audience might force me to abandon my plan and instead tell some mucky stories about willies and penises (penii?), but that will be entirely against my will I assure you, honest mate straight up no kidding.

Surviving that dangerous ordeal, I shall be on my way to the 25th Anniversary of the Festival At The Edge, one of Britain’s most wonderful storytelling events. A greenfield site on Wenlock Edge in Shropshire hosts three days of the best storytelling in the country (if not the world). On the Saturday I’m running “Discover Your Natural Voice“. Other than that I shall just be chatting, lounging, listening and grinning from ear to ear. Come and join me?

Then, the following weekend, on 22-24th July I get to celebrate the FIRST EVER birthday of the brand new East Anglian Storytelling Festival. I’m chuffed to bits to be invited to be part of this! On Saturday I’m running a one hour voice intensive workshop in the morning and MCing in the evening. On Sunday, I have the honour of closing the festival with an adults only performance, “50 Shades of Grimm” in which I take Grimm’s stories and allow the women to be a bit less passive? So “Rapunzel” becomes a story of awakening, “12 Dancing Princesses” becomes the negotiation of a daring and exploratory relationship between an experienced older man and a princess who wants to feel more intensely, and I close, I kid you not, with the story of a threesome. Feeling daring?

On Weds 27th July at 11am at the wonderful William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, London, I shall be running an interactive storytelling session for children on the theme of Indian Fairy Tales. William Morris loved Indian fairy tales. This session is free! Just bring a child, preferably your own. This is the first of five weekly sessions and it runs every Wednesday up to and including Weds 24 Aug. No, I’m not going on holiday this year.

The last gig of July is on the 30th at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in Southwark. As you know, for years now I’ve been analysing story structures and using them to channel the creativity of children and adults in various contexts. For the Globe and for young visually-impaired people, I shall be running a session wherein v.i. children, as a group, co-devise a new story based on the same narrative structure which Shakespeare uses in his great tragedies, Hamlet, Lear, MacBeth. It’s only an hour long so I shall have to tell back to them what they devise. With double the time, they would be doing the telling! This probably won’t be relevant to you, but if you know somebody who would have an interest in this session, please encourage them to contact The Globe for more details and in order to book.

Sheesh!!! I’m very happy to have such a busy summer! And I know and accept that there’s no rest for the wicked. What I do think is a little unfair is that I can’t remember any of the wickednesses I must surely have committed to get so little rest. I should like to remember – I bet it was fun…

See you somewhere, I hope?!

best wishes,

Giles ;{~


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The Observer and I Get Down With Pope

So I’m fast approaching the final stretch of preparation for Alexander Pope: A Search For Perfection. On Friday I suffered a bout of Popalysis, my head was so full of Popations that I couldn’t tell my Essay on Man from my Eloisa To Abelard. I was frozen, couldn’t settle on the next move the story had to make. But then I remembered “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” and I kept working. Sometime over the weekend I saw just enough of the road ahead to make the next move and, what do you know, I was writing again. Somehow I’d turned a dam into a flow. I knew that this would happen as that’s part of the process but it was a relief nonetheless!

Here’s a snippet of what it’s like being severely visually impaired and trying to research:

The next task, once the script is done, is to step away from it and use it as a starting point only because it’s all for nothing if I don’t get the story loose on my tongue. When that happens it really comes alive. I can tell the story. Without that all I can do is recite a script, which I won’t. Bring it on!

My first preview is on Saturday 21st May at The Proper Study of Mankind is Man: a symposium for Alexander Pope’s birthday hosted by Pope’s Grotto Preservation Trust at Pope’s actual Grotto in Twickenham (tickets still available here). To celebrate this moment (and Pope, of course), The Observer got in on the act. If you didn’t catch Vanessa Thorpe’s engrossing article in last Sunday’s edition, you can do so here.

And then on to my first public performance on Bank Holiday Monday 30th May at Orleans House Gallery (tickets still available here) and beyond…

I’m excited! I love it when a script comes together! Plus we have the poster!

Alexander Pope: A Search For Perfection Poster

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Ginger Wig and Strolling Man at The Last Tuesday Society

screen-shot-2016-04-05-at-23-51-55So on Sunday 10th April I was back at The Last Tuesday Society telling stories about fools, it being April and all. And sitting at the table were Ginger Wig and Strolling Man, hardcore reviewers of theatre, musicals, performing arts, comedy and now Storytelling!

And they loved the show! Click here for what they had to say…

I’m back at The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities on Sunday 8th May. Unfortunately it’s returns only for this performance, BUT there are still some tickets left for the 7pm and 9pm performances on Sunday 12th June. Click here to book.

See you there! G;{~

ps And they didn’t even mention the ginger connection…!

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Pope Tickets now on sale at Orleans House Gallery!

Alexander Pope: A Search For Perfection is gathering pace! Tickets are now on sale for Bank Holiday Monday 30th May at 1pm and 6pm at Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham. Click here to secure your seats! At £5 each, it’s a bargain.

Orleans House is absolutely beautiful – right on the Thames (you can hear the ducks quacking from the grounds). It’s within easy reach of Richmond, Twickenham and St Margarets train stations and is a short walk through parkland from various bus stops. And there’s parking! If you don’t know this part of London, I’d really recommend you have a look (I grew up round here) as it certainly makes for a wonderful day out (not least because of the glorious riverside pubs…).

I’ll be performing in the Octagon Room – a stunning space designed by the architect James Gibbs. And Orleans House Gallery holds a special place in my heart as it holds photographs taken by the explorer Richard Francis Burton, another extraordinary man that I brought to life in my show Tongues of Flame.

So, 30th May, put it in your diaries. And if you can’t make this, I’ll also be performing a shorter version in Pope’s Grotto itself on 18th and 25th June as part of the Twickenham Festival, the full version at Twickenham Library on 4th July and again at The Old Sorting Office in Barnes on 13th October. For full details click here.

G ;{~

Orleans House, Twickenham by Joseph Nickolls (1689 - 1789)
Orleans House, Twickenham by Joseph Nickolls (1689 – 1789)
The Octagon Room, Orleans House Gallery, taken by Kevin Mullins
The Octagon Room, Orleans House Gallery, taken by Kevin Mullins
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The Storyteller of Bath (and Bristol)

So, the first week of March and I travelled down to Bath to stay with my friend Harry. Next day, Wednesday, I worked in a school in Bristol, running Poetry workshops for KS2 children. Wonderful fun. I used a structure-based approach similar to the work I do with StoryMaking, and the staff were amazed at how the right level of limitation liberated the children’s imagination. After my first class there was a break and, as she entered the staff room, my class’s teacher smiled broadly at a colleague.

“If only all learning could be like that!” she said.

And I sincerely believe that more of it can. The children created complex poems in which an everyday object tells their own story. Some poems were riddles and you had to guess what the object was, and some were metaphorically very rich. Everyone wrote something and now the staff will take these beginnings on further. Proper job satisfaction for me.

On Thursday, Harry and I did our best to destroy the best that Bath had to offer in the matter of ales and pies (very good at The Griffin). I saw a moving play at Bristol Old Vic called Pink Mist. Actually, it was very storytellery as all the characters narrated the story straight to the audience. There was no set and minimal props and actors created scenes with movement and posture. I’ve got so much to learn there. I happened to be seated amongst a clump of 6th Formers, A Level drama students. Kid next to me was all scorn at the end of first act, so above it all, telling everyone how he’d worked out the impending twist in Act 2. He had and he hadn’t. As Act 2 progressed, I noticed him stop fidgeting, start leaning forward listening intently. At the end he spun to his friends;

“Excellent!!!” he said.

He’d dropped into the story. So much better than being above it.

On Friday I worked in a different Bristol school and, at day’s end, boarded a train not to home, but to Manchester. Word Of Mouth Storytelling Club was celebrating its 21st Birthday. I cut my teeth there 17 years ago. I wasn’t going to miss their birthday for the world…