Wolves ~ “A Glorious Christmas Show”!

Tunney play

A long time JOAN Aiken admirer, theatre director Russ Tunney has adapted (and premiered) a gloriously funny and faithful stage version of Joan Aiken’s classic children’s book  The Wolves of Willoughby Chase . 

The adaptation has been published by Nick Hern Books in a practical edition with performance notes and background information, and lends itself usefully to casts of anything from five upwards – especially if they are incredibly active quick change artists – even, currently, in a distanced production at The Greenwich Theatre, where the cast form a chorus of children, and all the fiendish villains and even the wolves from the original story, while  providing music and songs and plenty of laughs.

Using all the tongue in cheek humour of the original story with its Gothic thrills and adventures, Russ Tunney, and current director James Haddrell have also added some ‘more than Aiken‘ touches of their own – including a hilarious scene in the dreadful Blastburn School run by beastly Mrs Brisket, where the deliciously ridiculous ‘Cheese Alphabet‘  is recited by the hapless starving orphans, including, by now, our two wretched heroines, Bonnie and Sylvia.

When the school inspector comes to call they are dragged to their feet to recite:

MRS BRISKET: Show the nice man from from Ofsted our

advanced literacy: The Cheese Alphabet!

 CHILDREN: A is for Applewood Smoked, B is for Brie, C is

for Cheshire, D is for Davidstow, E is for Edam, F is for Feta

(or Fromage), G is for Gruyère, H is for Halloumi, I is for

Ibérico, J is for Jarlsberg, K is for Klosterkäse, L is for

Leicester (red), M is for Mascarpone, Manchego or

Monterey Jack, N is for Neufchâtel, O is for Orkney Extra

Mature, P is for Parmesan, Q is for Queso Jalapeño, R is for

Raclette, S is for Stilton, T is for Tasmania Highland Chevre

Log, U is for Ubriaco, V is for Vacherin Fribourgeois, W is

for Wensleydale, X is for Xynotyro, Y is for Yorkshire Blue,

and Z is for Zanetti Grana Padano.

 INSPECTOR: Incredible! They really know their cheeses!

 MRS BRISKET: Thank you, Inspector. We do, here at the

Brisket Blastburn Academy for Girls, concentrate on the

three R’s. Reading, Writing and Really tasty snacks.

                  An absolute delight! – the Stage review of the première says it all:

  “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase has never been adapted for the stage before…and I can’t think why not.
Joan Aiken’s children’s classic about two young girls and a goose-boy fighting for survival against howling wolves and grim governesses in a bleak snowy landscape is a gift for any company as family entertainment.
Russ Tunney’s script … blends melodrama, comedy, adventure and a little spookiness interwoven with songs and dances…with actors nipping in and out of costume and character at high speed… glorious snuggle down and enjoy Christmas present of a production that will charm children and adults alike.
        Wonderful stuff – worth wrapping up warm and turning out on a freezing night for.”

(from Lesley Bates, The Stage)

Except now, thanks to lockdown you can enjoy it by the comfort of your own fireside!

STREAMING now at The Greenwich Theatre – BOOK HERE

Greenwich Miss Slighcarp

Guess who… Miss Slighcarp in rehearsal!

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More Mortimer… Joan Aiken’s hilarious hero is back for Christmas!

M&A Xmas.png

Perfect for Christmas, and for (N)evermore?

 First seen on Jackanory read by the wonderful Bernard Cribbins, these stories have not lost any of their hilarity over the years… Joan Aiken couldn’t resist giving the Jones Family some of the 70’s craziest gadgets  for Mortimer to wreak havoc with in their house in Rumbury town London NW3-and-a-half…

If you aren’t able to see your family this year, maybe these stories will remind you of some of the (un-missed!) joys of Christmases past…

Arabel’s cousin Annie comes to stay, bringing alarming gifts – radio-controlled tiddlywinks, a solar powered skateboard and a computer guitar that makes up its own music – Joan Aiken’s powers of invention were ahead of her time, but not by very much…

Terrifying Toys!

computer toys

Mort & the toys

Struggling with Christmas baking?

While Mrs Jones is in the kitchen frantically trying to make an enormous number of prawn fancies and iced macaroons, she is disturbed by a mouse!!! And not just any mouse, but the Advance guard and A.A. Scout for an army of starving mice from Cantilever Green who are seeking pastures new, and who has been lured into the Jones kitchen by the delightful smell of all those macaroons:

4 custard tart5 Mrs J

Unwanted visitors?

7 Mrs Catchpenny

Ever helpful, Arabel goes to Mrs Catchpenny’s shop to borrow Archibald the cat, known locally as a former cracksman’s mog, and of course Mortimer goes along for the ride. The combination in Mrs Jones’s kitchen of Archibald, Scout F stroke B7, a fantastic amount of ill-fated ‘cordon-blue’ cookery (made with the help of all the Jones household’s trouble saving electrical equipment) and Mortimer, makes for a great tale…

When Mortimer confronts Archibald – who is happily well fed having opened the larder door and found the prawns, and then slept on the trays of warm macaroons in the airing cupboard and is now covered in crushed macaroon, clotted cream and feathers –  Mortimer is of course entranced!

Fun & Games

The game M & Arch

Did we know Mortimer had a mother?

Nevermore!

This is a mere taster of the delights on offer in these wonderful long lost collections, which also includes Mortimer’s Cross and the fantastic Mortimer’s Portrait on Glass, where Mortimer meets an ancient ancestor in Ireland. These stories still make me laugh  out loud, but just now, something we absolutely need is a bit of real craziness….

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Puffin editions also have added Extras –  Like Do You Remember…?

EXTRA - 70's Inventions

and Much more!

Find the Bernard Cribbins Jackanory Episodes on the Joan Aiken You Tube page

Jackanory Portrait

>   >   >   *   <   <   <

Find  Both the Puffin collections here

M&amp;A Xmas mini holly

Keeping up with Joan Aiken

mushrooms

One of Joan Aiken’s pastel drawings – mushrooms for supper

“Just because I’m sweeping leaves doesn’t mean I’m not thinking,” she would say – or she might be drawing a picture of mushrooms, or staking runner beans, or making Rowan jelly or sewing hessian curtains…. the activities were endless.  But whether she was gardening, homemaking, feeding visitors delicious dinners, and inventing new recipes, reading to children or taking them for walks on the Sussex Downs…all the while she was making up stories, and telling them, brooding on plots, working out how to rescue a heroine, or kill off a villain…

Joan Aiken was born from two strong outgoing family strains, with  a Scots Canadian mother, and an American father descended from a long line of puritan pilgrims.  Both families had braved alarming sea voyages to reach new countries, and struggled to work the land and build a future, and Joan had inherited strong genes and a determined outlook on life that kept her going through many vicissitudes.  Anything that needed making, building, growing or sewing she would tackle, any journey or adventure that she could pursue she would take up with alacrity, and any new experience however alarming or exhausting could be put to use in a plot, and usually was.  As her daughter I sometimes found this bewildering  as whole chunks of her, or my own experience could appear, lightly disguised, in a murder mystery or a children’s comic serial; unhappy love affairs, confrontations with brutal bosses, tales of travels gone scarily aglay, all was an inspiration or a useful piece of background that might turn up in an unfamiliar context as I was innocently reading through her latest manuscript.

At the time I might have been furious, felt my life was being snatched away, my experiences only material for her imagination; now when I read, and re-read her books I find they are full of gifts from her which only I can really appreciate – I remember the flat in Paris that inspired that nightmare, the garden in York where those apple trees were planted, the theatre production with the egg box masks, the terrified old lady who kept ‘the wealth’ safety-pinned into her liberty bodice.

The house and the garden were sold, the mushroom chicken pies, the Rowan jelly and the walks over the chalk downs are only memories now, but when I want to relive those memories,  go on those journeys with her and visit those places again, I have them all in her books, and as I marvel at her energy and resourcefulness, I realise that I am still keeping up with Joan.

For the last dozen years I have been putting together an online resource which links all these blog pieces and what someone delightfully called a ‘deep’ website, a virtual Joan Aiken museum which has become a wonderful world of its own, a place to travel and explore and meet Joan and read about her life and writing.

It has just had a refurbishment and moved to a new secure site, where I hope it will be preserved for many years to come, so you can all come and wander at will.

A great way to keep up with Joan Aiken…

Drawing crop

Do come and visit

The Wonderful World of Joan Aiken

 ‘a day in the life’ from the 1990’s

TELEGRAPH TEXT.

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Mortimer the Raven – an unexpected hero – for Primary School Teachers!

New Puffin

Famous for munching up flights of stairs, and even escalators (where do you think the word ‘ravenous’ comes from!?) Mortimer the raven is best known as the hilarious troublemaker who first appeared in Joan Aiken’s Arabel’s Raven stories on Jackanory – and of course in Quentin Blake’s wonderful pictures!

But his adventures with the Jones family and his beloved friend Arabel,  have surprisingly also made him a HERO with teachers of reluctant readers. Here’s a letter from one of them –  (thank you, Anne!)

    “I had a class of 10 and 11 year olds, one of whom was having great difficulty in learning to read. Well, let’s be blunt about this, he couldn’t even read his name. He and I worked long and hard on this problem, mainly with the help of his brother’s motorbike manual, and eventually he began to make sense of the words on the page and I began to understand how to strip a bike engine. (All the best teaching goes two ways!) But, at last, the day I knew he’d really made it as an independent reader was all down to Joan Aiken. 

Every afternoon in that class began with us all putting our feet up with a good book and reading silently for twenty minutes or so. (How else does a hard pressed teacher get time to read?) On this particular afternoon we were all well into our books when there comes a suppressed snigger from the general direction of this lad’s desk. I decide to ignore it. Then there is another, rather less well suppressed, and finally an outright chortle. He was almost unaware of what he was doing so engrossed was he in the book that he could now read well enough to really enjoy. And the book?   Aiken’s ‘Arabel’s Raven’. I bless her regularly for turning him into a real reader.”

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Jones Family Photo

The BBC TV series (as above)  with puppets based on the wonderful illustrations by Quentin Blake is now available again to download

Also on Itunes

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Read more about  the Arabel and Mortimer stories here

Two New Puffin Bumper Collections out now!

Two New Mortimers

and you can even do the jigsaw!