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!
On Saturday 30th July, I ran “Shakespearean Story Madness” at the Globe Theatre in Southwark as part of their “Telling Tales Festival.” My brief was to create a workshop suitable for visually-impaired children where they could create a new story together which related to Shakespeare’s work. I spent days thinking my way through the plots of MacBeth, Hamlet, Othello, Lear trying to pick out the common elements. I don’t mean the stylistic elements but rather the ways in which those plays are built.
I arrived at The Globe. The Globe have partnered up with RNIB in a committed effort to make great literature exciting to blind young people. Accordingly, my assistant and I were invited to explore the RNIB Reading Forest. This was a multi-sensory environment with great “Reading Trees” spaced within. These trees had Braille for bark and each tree had a recorded voice on a permanent loop sharing works of childrens’ literature. We stood beneath one as our Globe guide explained the installation, while above us, a voice read from Michael Rosen’s classic Early Years poem We’re Going On A Bear Hunt.
“Hang on a minute!” I said, interrupting our guide, “that’s me!”
And it was! The poem was a recording I made for RNIB a few years ago! Minutes later I was hailed by Chris, the recording engineer with whom I made the recording. Naturally, we posed for a picture together and here it is. So it’s official – I have performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre! Ahem. Claim To Fame, thy name is Tenuous, as Shakespeare might have written…..
And then the workshop. The children were all 12 and below. Allow me to summarise what they created together with my help:
Lord Dragon lived in a castle on an island. He was so big that some said he was a giant. He was so strong that some said he was a hero. He was so beautiful that some said he was like a god.
One day, a mysterious robed and hooded person came to Lord Dragon and told him that someone, somewhere, was boasting that they were stronger than Lord Dragon. Lord Dragon was amused. They said that this person bragged they could take Lord Dragon easy, any day. Lord Dragon was not amused. He demanded to know who? King Henry, he was told. Now King Henry VIII when young was strong and you don’t just challenge a King to single combat but Lord Dragon did. King Henry would be a tough opponent, the robed figure told Lord Dragon, but Lord Dragon could not lose if he fought using this spear. Lord Dragon took the spear, issued the challenge, crossed the sea to England. He noticed, when he took the spear, that the robed figure was missing a thumb.
For days Lord Dragon practised with the spear. On the morning of the fight he wasn’t feeling himself. Actually, he was feeling ill. He was approached by a white haired old lady. She told him that the spear had been poisoned, its shaft soaked in the spit of leeches and the blood of anacondas. The woman could see the veins of his arm had turned a funny colour and if the poison reached his heart he would die. She could give him the antidote. But Lord Dragon ignored the advice and soon the fight was on.
Lord Dragon and King Henry were well-matched and they fought hard but eventually Lord Dragon had King Henry at his mercy. But something distracted him. Looking up he saw the white-haired woman again. He saw she was missing a thumb. He saw her rubbing her head in anxiety as she watched the fight, hovering with a bottle of antidote. He saw her hair slip back – it was a wig! Beneath the wig was dark hair and, Lord Dragon saw, she was missing an ear! Lord Dragon realised that he recognised her, that she was in fact his estranged brother with whom he had quarrelled years ago!
The distraction proved fatal. King Henry threw Lord Dragon and wrested the spear from him then drove its point into Lord Dragon’s chest. Dying, Lord Dragon asked “why did you do this?” His brother answered that was his plan was to create a situation in which he could save Lord Dragon’s life and earn his forgiveness. “But you have been my death!” said Lord Dragon. “And mine!” said King Henry, realising the poison was in his blood now. With that, King Henry struck the brother with the spear and so they all died.
A magical, cross-dressing tragedy in the finest of traditions that left all the kids beaming! And this took a little less than an hour to create together and relate together. Not bad, huh?
Tickets are now on sale for all of 2018’s Stories on a Sunday at The Last Tuesday Society at The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Hackney. Booking through TicketWeb Stories On A Sunday 2018 tickets.
It’s always fun choosing themes & stories to suit the magical & exotic setting of the Museum Of Curiosities. This gig is one of the gems in my monthly calendar – intimate, daring, exciting. Guests tell me the storytelling, the Museum, the experience all add up to a magical evening. Book now – tickets are already selling fast.
Stories On A Sunday 2018
Jan 14 “A Little Warm Death”
The dead month of January, cold, bleak, dark. We’ve got just the thing for you- a warm little death. From Nigeria, a young man falls for a woman who keeps disappearing. Amidst the dreaming spires of Oxford a beautiful student falls for a stunning older woman. A collector, she says, but of what? Scary, sexy, shocking – aren’t you tempted to A Little Warm Death?
Feb 11th – My Bawdy Valentine – Tales To Make Saint Valentine Blush
Chaucer, Boccaccio, other mucky so & so’s, make their entrance in evening of filthy, saucy, raucous bawdery in the finest ooh er missis tradition of it all if you know what I mean?! Ooh stop it. Red-hot irons on smooth white buttocks, horny wives & husbands with horns, ooh, go on, I dare you! You know you want it….
March 11th – Mother
It’s Mothering Sunday. Easter is coming. When better for stories of the Mother of Mothers and original Easter Bunny, Ishtar aka Inana. 5000 years ago we worshipped her in Mesopotamia, in Babylon, as goddess of desire, of love. How much would you like to meet her? Trust us, she’s one cool mother….
April 8th – What Fools These Mortals Be…
Feeling foolish? Wish to sail on the Ship Of Fools? Giles Abbott will be your blind captain. All aboard as we set sail for a joyful evening of folly and silliness with fools from Britain, Norway, Turkey and Egypt. Book now – you’d be fools not to.
May 13th Mermaids
Spring tides are high – can you hear the mermaids singing? Under the LTS’s real fake mermaid, we offer stories of Mermaids claiming back their melancholy, their beauty, their power. Featuring love, loss, longing & the everlasting kisses of the sea we take the sugar out of Mermaid tales & put the salt back in, in tales in which the Mermaids get their real tails back. Back by popular demand.
June 10th is in abeyance as Mr Abbott is most likely performing in a Norman castle looming over the sea cliffs of Wales.
July 8th The Luck Of The Irish
….is to be one of the great storytelling nations of the world. Join us for an evening of ancient Irish myth, stories of the Otherworld & the actual tale which inspired Irishman Bram Stoker to create his immortal Dracula.
Aug 12 Cock Tales
Due to popular demand, against our better judgement, we’ve given in and agreed to once more unzip “Cock Tales”, our popular evening of cocktails matched with stories of cock, cockerels, poultry, poulterers & hen-keeping. Honest. Well hung for over 28 days, our stories are game. Are you?
Sept 9 The Last Hero – Odysseus
Forced to go to war, keener to use wits than weapons, how did this reluctant warrior become the last of the Heroes? Drawn from Homer’s “Odyssey”, arguably the first ever European novel, we follow wily Odysseus as he faces dishonour, disaster, Death itself. Meeting by surprise his mother’s ghost he even comes face to face with one of our exhibits! Book now for these spell-binding & achingly humane stories.
Oct 14 Real Old Horrors
Horror comes in many forms. For some it’s a creaking door & the smell of blood. Or it’s dark, & you know you’re not alone. For others it’s the pressing presence of evil. We promise you all this and more in a evening of skin-crawlingly gruesome, spine-tinglingly scary horror stories.
Nov 11 Sparks Fly – The Love Of Sigurd & Brunhild
In Bonfire season come hear tales first told around fires in Iceland then throughout the Viking world before they went on to inspire English writers as diverse as William Blake, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien & Roger Lancelyn Green as well as composer Richard Wagner & the entire genre of fantasy fiction. The epic Ring Cycle spirals from innocence to crime to greed, murder, mutation and holds at its heart one of the greatest mythic love stories ever. WARNING – here bee dragons.
Dec 9th Bah, Humbug!
Our annual jollity-free zone, our ever popular celebration of the other side of Christmas. Genuine traditional Christmas stories & songs of murder & blood-letting. C’mon, don’t say you’ve never been tempted?
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.
I’m really excited – building on my successful workshop at the Imagine Children’s Festival, I will be at Shakespeare’s Globe on Saturday 30th July, running a session at 2.15pm called Shakespearean Story Madness. This workshop is specifically for children who are visually impaired and who may have additional needs. What will it be? Well, Shakespeare knew his traditional stories! I’ll be looking at the plot structures underneath his great tragedies, for example Lear, Hamlet, MacBeth and Othello, and using them to help make up new stories with the participants. The session will be frenetic, collaborative and above all fun! So if you, or if you know of anyone who has VI children, please forward the workshop information on and get them involved. You can find out more and book tickets here.
And if you want to hear more about the links between Shakespeare and earlier traditional stories have a listen to this brief natter I’ve recorded for you below:
At 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:
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.
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?!
In 2004, the Snowdon Trust helped me when I was raising money to study for my MA in Voice Studies at Central School Of Speech & Drama. The Snowdon Trust are a charity set up by Lord Snowdon to help disabled students in further and higher education who are working towards a professional goal. And they were such lovely people that we’ve kept in touch ever since.
And earlier this year they did just that. Paul Alexander, their Chief Executive, excitedly told me that they’d won the chance to make a Radio 4 Appeal, as they want to boost donations to enable them to help more people like me. So I congratulated Paul.
Then he got to the point! They’d been advised to get a celebrity to read their appeal, but then they thought, wouldn’t it be nicer if we could get a beneficiary instead?
“Ah!” they thought, “Giles could read it.”
Then Paul said the producer had advised them that when writing the Appeal they should bear in mind that it’s basically storytelling.
“Ah!” they thought, “Giles could write it.”
Then the Snowdon Trust wondered what I could base my story on. I’m sure you can guess…
So, not much pressure then! I started my research by analysing a number of past appeals, a very useful skill I’ve learnt through working with Leon Conrad, my partner at Academy Of Oratory. I wrote the first draft expecting it to be the first salvo in a back and forth, ping-pong of edits. But no, the Snowdon Trust said they loved it.
Next step was sharing it with Kate Howells, the producer at the BBC. Again, I expected back and forth but again, she was delighted. There was some tweaking and rewording, of course, to get it down to the exact word count but basically it was a goer. I love it when a script comes together.
And then I went to record it. I was told they’d booked an extra long recording slot so there’d be plenty of time. I walked along Regent Street to what I hoped was Broadcasting House. Inside, I came face to face with a lady standing at the desk. I wished her good morning and said
“I’m looking for Old Broadcasting House?”
“This is it,” she answered, brightly.
“Oh good,” I said (I am always relieved when I actually find a location), “I’m doing a Radio 4 Appeal recording today…”
“I know you are,” she said, “for the Snowdon Trust!”
I was amazed at that! Wow, I thought, the Beeb know there’s a VI bloke coming so they’ve briefed people to keep an eye out for me, amazing…Then I realised the lady was trying not to giggle. It was Linda, fundraiser for the Snowdon Trust, Linda who had won this opportunity in the first place, Linda with whom I had collaborated on the final edits! Captain Blinkie, with his X-Man powers of Not Recognising People Even When He’s Standing Right In Front Of Them, scores again! We both laughed. Like I said, they’re lovely people at the Snowdon Trust who make a genuine personal connection with the people they help, so genuine that Linda knows me well enough to know I’ve lost much of my sight but not my sense of humour.
Inside, the sound engineer was as brilliant as sound engineers so often are. He set up a mic so I could have my phone practically touching my nose (I use the largest possible font in ePub to read scripts) and the mic off to one side. “Which side?” he asked. Left side, as I have a little bit of macular vision I can peep through on that side. We got to it.
Longer session? I did it in two takes! The first take was too long and we needed to lose 20 seconds. Kate Howells is not only a great producer but also a brilliant editor. She would very quickly, very decisively suggest “why don’t we lose this because, if you emphasise this here then the point is already made…” or “if you miss out these words here and just go from this ‘if’ to the ‘if’ that comes up later, we’ll gain about 3 seconds….” She was right.
A few drop-ins on info which had been formatted and we were done! Then Kate said something so lovely I asked if I could quote her:
I was overawed by Giles’s dexterity with delivering a script in the studio. I had booked extra recording time in case it was a complicated process, but, holding his phone next to his nose to read, he was quicker to work with than most fully sighted people. And script alterations were no problem. What a pleasure to work with him.