Why Noggin the Nog?

When I was small (about a thousand years ago) we didn’t have a television; I know that sounds odd and incredibly old-fashioned now but in the early 1960s TV was for wealthy people (they were incredibly expensive items) and not for the likes of us … not for a few years anyway  and when we did get one it was thanks to Redifusion who rented tellies. Anyway, a friend of mine at school had a huge Bush television; I say huge, the cabinet was huge the screen was tiny, anyway, one evening I went to his house after school, I think, and I ogled the telly as if it was magic … which indeed it was. We had the cinema, the flea-pit, and I went most weeks but this was incredible … a screen, in your room, that showed moving pictures; black and white, of course, but moving pictures nonetheless. Back to my friends house; as I was sitting there with white sliced bread toast and jam (I had a deprived childhood, we only had “proper” brown bread), which was almost as magical as the TV, a programme started  on this magical box … the opening picture looked like this:

Saga Original

the music started, it was strange and quite eerie and old-fashioned even then but it drew me in … and then this amazing voice said: “In the Lands of the North where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale …”

The tale they told had me transfixed.

A bit of history …

170px-Wfm_lewis_chessmen

… let me take you back to the year 1952 (that is even before I was born) there was a young art   student by the name of Peter Firmin. He one day went to the British Museum where he saw The Isle of Lewis Chess pieces which had been dug up from a sand dune; he became a bit besotted by these amazing carvings (which can still be seen in the British Museum and, some of them,on the left) and he drew and wrote a story. In 1958 he met Oliver Postgate. Whilst they were making Ivor the Engine, for Associated Redifusion, he showed Oliver his story and drawings and, by 1960, they had been commissioned by the BBC to produce six ten minute films … narrated by Oliver and drawn by Peter. These films were “The Saga of Noggin the Nog”. The films (they made more) were regularly on the television until well into the 1970s. Some colour versions were made in 1980 and in the 1990s they had a bit of a revival on Channel 4 but since then … it has all gone a bit quiet … Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin have made many other films since then, of course, there was Alexander the Mouse, the Pingwings, The Clangers, Pogles Wood, Tottie, The Seal of Neptune, The Story of a Doll’s House and, of course, Bagpuss. In fact, Peter and Oliver have been present in the lives of a number of generations of young children from the 1960s until now. Unfortunately Oliver Postgate died in 2008. Peter celebrated his 85th birthday  by coming to see our version of “The Saga of Noggin the Nog” at the New Diorama Theatre, London at the beginning of December 2012. We all sang Happy Birthday and a fabulous day was had by all.

Back to the plot …

… a couple of years ago Tony Gleave and I were strolling along the beach and chatting about theatre; shows we had done and shows we would like to do: Noggin the Nog was mentioned and both of us got very excited. Memories of childhood came flooding back (white toast and jam and a television the size of a small lorry); those many hours spent watching Peter’s drawings and listening to Oliver’s voice which was so reassuring. We had to watch the films again of course, just to make sure that we weren’t remembering things incorrectly, we weren’t looking at childhood through rose coloured spectacles … we weren’t. The beauty of Noggin, and indeed all of Peter and Oliver’s work, is the wonderful simplicity with which the carefully constructed stories are told. A bit like “Listen with Mother” but with pictures. We knew we had to make “The Saga of Noggin the Nog” into a play but more than that, we knew we had to re-create the simplicity and the humour with which the stories were originally told. We had to produce a piece of theatre that would, not only keep children spellbound but would also keep the adults engaged and amused … and also … remain truthful to the original stories for those old enough to remember them from the first time round. So … that was our task … it wasn’t easy but I think we’ve managed to find the heart of the original and added a soupçon of “now” into the mix to make a piece of theatre that is robust enough for modern audiences and yet does not kowtow to the “let’s do all the work for the audience” style of television that seems to practically fill the thousands of hours of modern young people’s broadcasting. Of course, you will have to be the judge of that!

One member of the audience who saw the show at the New Diorama Theatre, London, wrote in an e mail:

” … the heart of your production transforms your entire audience into … children, and the humour is perfectly pitched to be enjoyed by both generations”.

Last August we premiered the show (as work in progress) in Ramsgate.

A review by Rebecca Smith in the Thanet Gazette, August 31st 2012:

“But mummy, when will it start?”

Two little faces look up at me from the cushions thoughtfully fetched from a spare sofa at the back of the theatre.

“Shush, darlings,” I hiss.

Just as another chorus of “when will it start” is about to begin – BOOM!

Two little spines stiffen and heads whiz around to face front, craning to see.

A drummer steps from behind the deceptively simple, but effective and versatile, set.

My two little boys are transfixed and remain so for the duration of the performance.

Third Party Production’s Noggin the Nog is unquestionably a hit and to have it premiere in Thanet at the Summer Squall arts festival is a great coup for Ramsgate Arts.

The show takes the much-loved character of Noggin and brings it to the stage using an ensemble of four actors with music, song, video (using original sketches from the cartoon) and puppets. The show was billed for all ages, a phrase which caused me some concern that it might be above the heads of my little two. I should not have been worried.

It is clever, witty and entrancing …”

So, if you get the chance, come and see it … you’ll find the places, dates and times, under “Where and When …” in this blog.

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