Last summer we did a couple of weeks of research and development on “The Saga of Noggin the Nog” with Director, John Wright. We tried to work out how we were going to tell the story of Noggin the Nog. We came armed with the DVD, a projector, a few puppets from other shows that stood in for the various Noggin characters, a few props, a couple of barrels, boxes, bits of tree, a couple of musical instruments and no idea of how we were going to turn all of those into a play. Where do you start? You put the kettle on. Over tea and Hob-Nobs (which laughingly, if predictably) became Hog-Nogs, we started to throw ideas around. We watched the DVDs and we played with puppets and we generally messed around for most of the day: it felt good.
Day two: we went off down a blind alley of wrongness … we bumped against the closed end of the said Cul de Sac until we were battered and bruised. We continued battering ourselves against the brick wall for day 3 and day 4 and much of day 5 … in fact we pretty much failed to work out how to make Noggin the Nog for a very long time. Although as we all said philosophically; “you often have to go wrong before you can go right”.
Week Two: we continued, philosophically going wrong … although we were learning a great deal about Noggin and we had some really good ideas for little snatches of the piece and we had learned more about puppets than Geppetto but we still didn’t have a style. It was the conceit of the piece that we were struggling with … who are we? Are we the characters or are we different characters telling the story of the characters. We were spiralling down, down into mild grumpiness. The tea and Hog-Nog consumption went up.
Towards the end of the second week, we found what we were looking for … a troupe of “out of work” vikings, who sat around their great log fires and told tales. They told tales like terribly English gentlemen of the 1950s: a bit like Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin as it happens. They wanted to be rough and gruff but niceness kept getting in the way. We had picked up on Oliver Postgate’s very English voice and the fact that Noggin and his hoard of rugged, craggy and hirsute vikings (who all spoke terribly well) often stopped for cups of tea and hot buttered toast. So, by the end of our little period of research and development we had our conceit and a few suggested scenes and we knew, more or less, which bits of film we were going to project and that we would need two projectors; one for rear projection and one out the front. We also knew that we were going to spend another week, after a pause of about a month, on putting together the first half of the play. There are two stories in the finished play … the first is taken from the very first film “King of the Nogs” and the second story is from, funnily, the second film “The Ice Dragon”. We were going to spend a week making the first story and … putting it in front of an audience at The Summer Squall, an arts festival down on the south-east coast of England in the town of Ramsgate.
So, props were found, projections were organised, costumes were hired, an old wooden cart purchased, a set was cobbled together and we went into a very hectic week of rehearsal. Needless to say, the story has a happy ending.
The photographs above are from the very first performance of “The Saga of Noggin the Nog” performed at the Summer Squall. All went well and the audiences (we did two performances) went wild; in a terribly English way. So, flushed with success, we went away and forgot all about it for a few weeks but of course, we knew that we had to start all over again. We were due to perform the play, in its complete format (two halves, two stories), at the New Diorama, London for two weeks leading up to Christmas 2012.
We had new puppets to create, costumes to be made, a lot of new props to acquire, an idea or two as to how we might create the second story to be thought up and … an Ice Dragon to find. So, once again the might of Third Party and Mischievous Theatre team wound itself up into a large fluffy ball and hurled itself at the task. Needless to say, we were nowhere near ready to start a two week rehearsal period by the end of November. But start we did.
So, on a Monday morning in late November in a cloyingly cold rehearsal room on Marylebone High Street, the band of Nog warriors put the kettle on and had a cup of tea and a packet of Hog-Nogs and chatted about where we might start. John Wright, our Director, got us to tell the story of “King of the Nogs” and we began in earnest to recreate the first half of the play … with a great many changes, and then we told the story of the “Ice Dragon”, and started to put that together (difficult without the actual Ice Dragon, which was lying on the floor of a workshop with wet paint, glue and bits of wood and withies sticking out at all angles). We had all the usual problems that all companies have when they are making a piece of theatre … projectors that suddenly stop projecting, harmonium keys that stick, puppets that come apart in your hands, being locked out of our rehearsal room for the best part of a day, not enough mugs for tea, actors with colds, influenza and other work related lurgies, envelopes that had to be stuffed with posters and leaflets, heated discussions about various methods of doing a particular scene and on and on. Slowly though, over the two weeks, the play began to come together and by the time the first performance was due to be performed we very nearly knew most of it.
So, five minutes before the first performance (a performance that Peter Firmin and a great number of his family will be at), the computer that drives the projectors, suddenly decided that it wasn’t a computer after all but an electric kettle or a toaster or a radio-alarm, anything in fact but not a computer. The projectors are not projecting … great. So, Tony Gleave, dressed half in a viking costume and half in computer geek clothes starts fiddling with the intransigent pile of metal, wires and related hardware … he tries one thing after another and then turns it off and back on again … phew, it always works. The audience enter, find their seats, and there is a general buzz of excitement as the “play-in” music fades. As the “play-in” music fades, Tony is wrestling with a viking smock, a pair of terribly English 50s deck shoes and a metal helmet and then casts about looking for the lantern that he makes his first entrance with. The house lights fade and the stage lights creep up … we begin.
The first performance of any show is always an odd affair. We all more or less know what we are doing and saying, we all want to make the performance as good as we can, we are all slightly nervous … adrenalin tends to play a large part in any first performance and we had it in spades. We hit the stage at a hundred miles an hour and hurtled towards the end but after ten minutes we all relaxed, a little, and the show found its natural pace. We got to the end without too many gaffs and lost lines and the audience went wild … as wild as an English audience ever gets, anyway. The show was a success. Over the next twenty or so performances it settled into a lovely rhythm and just got better and better.
So, have a look at the Where and When page and see if there is a performance somewhere near you. And if there isn’t worry not … “The Saga of Noggin the Nog” will return later in the year. See you all there!