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.
Four years ago today, I lost my father. These poems were written at stages of my father’s long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. I’m proud of him and proud to be his.
John Robert Simcoe Abbott, 1937-2012
Last week we had a wild morning in Twickenham as it was time for me to get my mug shot for the publicity for Alexander Pope: A Search For Perfection. So, donning the shirt that my amazing wife made for me, I became an 18th century dandy and posed for the lovely Cathy Cooper as she took photos of me in Pope’s Grotto and by the new Urn sculpture dedicated to Pope on the riverside. You’ll have to wait a little longer for the one we finally chose but here are some of the outtakes to keep you going… (captions welcome!)
Here’s a little treat for Easter that won’t pile on the pounds… It’s a tale of generosity, everlasting love, and bunnies…
My train from Bath took me straight North to Manchester and I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly just ½ hour before the storytelling started. Earphones, SatNav, charge!
I loved walking through Manchester, obeying the orders of the bossy woman’s voice I heard in my ears. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I recognised, having not visited Manchester in over a decade. Oxford Road where Sooz studied, that funny bar at the junction of Great Bridgewater Street and then The Briton’s Protection, a lovely pub named, with typically harsh Mancunian irony, after the Peterloo Massacre on St Peter’s Field, 16th August 1819, when the government read the Riot Act and commanded the Army to open fire on peaceful Chartist demonstrators. Still on the Statutes, the Riot Act.
I arrived with a minute to spare and there I found old friends like Honor Giles and Helen Stewart, who’ve been running the Word of Mouth Storytelling Club successfully for a number of years. I sat at the back not knowing, until he spoke, that I’d sat next to my old friend Nick. Then I heard Effie’s laugh & realised that my London friends, Richard Trouncer and Effie Giordanou were there too! I met Richard & Effie at Word Of Mouth, years ago. Richard & Effie met each other at Word Of Mouth. I was already enjoying this reunion.
Friday night I saw Amy Douglas telling stories with her musical partner Lucy Wells. “Wild Edrick” was very cleverly structured and a beautifully balanced evening’s storytelling. Funny, magical, humane, the story glid from Shropshire landscape to folklore, to history, to myth, and back. Subtly, but strongly political, different layers of the telling explored the relationship between Edrick and Goda, between the rich people hunting and the poor people getting fed, the shamanic relationship between hunter & hunted – in which the hunted gives consent to be hunted on the understanding that they will not be over-hunted, and the relationship between the ruled and their rulers. Really beautiful stuff.
More memory lane as I walked to my hotel, past the Central Library, the Art Museum. I was amazed just how much my mind had stored.
But on Sunday I was astounded at what the memory of Shonaleigh has stored. You think you’re a storyteller and then you hear Shonaleigh doing a Drut’syla telling. Wow.
The Drut’syla is a female Jewish storyteller. They have their own unique repertoire. Shonaleigh’s training by her Grandmother Edith Marx, which lasted from the age of four to eighteen, has equipped her with a repertoire of 3,500 interlaced stories. No, that’s not a typo. Really, three and a half thousand.
The way a Drut’syla telling works is fascinating. A story will intersect with another story which is alluded to with “but that’s another story,” to which the audience responds “for another time”. The teller then continues with the tale. But, if anyone in the audience says, for example, “no, tell us the story of the wine merchants” the Drut’syla will do so. Usually that story leads back to the one we were on, but not necessarily, and there’s no guarantee you’ll hear the end of any given story. Not that night, anyway, and traditionally a Drut’syla telling can last for nights.
I could’ve listened for weeks! It wasn’t just the depth of her repertoire and the sense of an entire world you could explore, but Shonaleigh’s telling is so spare, so clean, with never a word too many nor a description too long. Utterly hypnotic. I sincerely think Shonaleigh should be awarded Museum status as a sincere acknowledgement of her, of her Grandmother and their tradition and of the importance of intangible culture, paradoxically enduring and at the same time fragile. Now that’d be a Facebook petition to sign!
I’m taking a few days break now but I’ll be in touch next week to share some exciting developments in the Alexander Pope commission. And I plan to record some poetry for you. So, keep checking in! See you soon.
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…
Be one of the first people to see Alexander Pope: A Search for Perfection! I will be performing a sneak preview of my latest show at the Pope’s Grotto Preservation Trust symposium “The proper study of Mankind is Man” on Saturday 21st May 2016 at Radnor House School, Twickenham.
As it will be the first time I will have performed the piece in public, there will be an opportunity to feedback – who knows, you comments might help shape the final piece!
But the symposium is not all about me. Throughout the day there will be talks from leading authorities on Pope, a garden archaeologist and the planned virtual reconstruction of the Grotto. It’s a really exciting line up and you even get lunch.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
Tickets for my latest storytelling piece Alexander Pope: A Search For Perfection are now on sale for performances at Pope’s Grotto during the Twickenham Festival on Saturday 18th and Saturday 25th June 2016.
You can buy single or family tickets and I will be telling stories throughout the day giving you the chance to both listen to me and explore Pope’s fabulous and very curious Grotto.
Tickets are available via Eventbrite. For more information about the event please go to The Pope’s Grotto Preservation Trust Events and News page and subscribe to their email list. And of course, follow me on Facebook and Twitter for further updates!
More tickets for more dates will be available soon…
I hope to see you there!