Noggin, Edinburgh and a Soaking Barrel …

We are well into the second week of rehearsal now and fun has been had by all (and a lot of hard work, obviously). We’re almost ready! Honest! Just a few bits and pieces left to do, that’s all. We’ve cut almost twenty-five minutes from the show and brought the second half of the play more in line with the first half and it feels really great. We’re very excited about it. The proof, of course, is in the “performing it in front of nearly three hundred children on Friday”.

ThorNogson and Noggin

ThorNogson and Noggin

Just a few of the things we’ve done …

Apart from rewriting sections of the play, re-assigning some of the lines (which makes them quite tricky to remember, I can tell you), changing the emphasis of some of the sections and generally rehearsing the whole lot, there were quite a lot of other jobs to be done. Some more surprising than others.

For instance: poor old King Knut had a leg problem; in fact, two leg problems … they dropped off. A similar plight afflicted the Brave and Mighty ThorNogson. They have now been re-legged, phew!

Tony has spent many “happy” hours re-editing and re-aligning all of the video projections … gosh, he enjoyed that!

Max spent a good hour or so polishing his helmet … well, all of the helmets, actually, with wet and dry … and a shield.

Nick clickety-clacked away on the laptop putting all the re-writes into a new document so that we could all sing off the same hymn sheet.

I’ve repaired Ronf’s sword and both of his arms … much glue, gaffer tape and a few choice words. And this evening Tony and I enjoyed remaking and repainting a major part of the set.

And, possibly most surprising …

… two men dangle a barrel in the sea. Barrels dry out unless they have fluid inside them and this one has neither a top nor a bottom … it is very dry. It fell apart. We came up with this idea! Why not soak it in the sea! It worked, though it is very sandy and we did amuse a a couple of fishermen. All in a days work!




The Sagas of Noggin the Nog Heads to Edinburgh … Part 1

We’re on our way to Edinburgh … by way of Theatre Royal Margate! 

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 … and the tale they tell is of Noggin the Nog, strong and fair and brave as the men of the Northlands are. So begins the tales of Noggin the Nog.

Our tale is about a group of performers, musicians, directors, puppet makers, designers and a team of dedicated people who all want The Sagas of Noggin the Nog to go beyond the one successful tour of 2013. To this end we are starting again.

Monday 30th June 2014 …

After three or four days of putting together a project for Kickstarter (of which more later) and checking costumes, props, set and sending e mails by the score, Monday arrives! We have almost two weeks to re-write and re-rehearse the play. Why? Well, we are taking The Sagas of Noggin the Nog to Edinburgh and we have to shorten the show to fit in with the festival schedule; currently the play lasts seventy-five minutes and we have to cut it so that it fits into an hour slot. We also have to lose some of our equipment because there is nowhere to store it at the venue. We also want to rework the second half of the play which has a slightly different feel to the first half and we would like to make it more consistent. So, Monday … thanks to an association with the Theatre Royal Margate, we have a rehearsal space at The Winter Gardens … up lots of stairs, I might add … still it keeps us fit. And then on Friday 11th July 2014 we are previewing our new slimline version of the show at the Theatre Royal Margate (there is a link at the end of this post).


Caroline titivates the Hot Water Valley Ambassador, Ronf

Caroline titivates the Hot Water Valley Ambassador, Ronf


During the tour of “Noggin” last year we made an important discovery … this play is genuinely a piece of family theatre. Yes, it works for children, yes, it works for adults but it works particularly well for family audiences. Why is that important? I have noticed over many years of touring theatre that there are fewer and fewer family shows being produced. There are lots of “kids” or worse “kidz” shows and many shows for adults but few that attempt to entertain, intrigue and engage the whole family. In Britain we have the Pantomime but the majority of those have long since stopped trying to engage all of the audience. It is rare that as a family we sit in a large room filled with other families and share an event, an experience, and it is this shared experience that makes it special. We get home and talk about what we experienced collectively; something that happens less frequently in this “solo world”. We see parents sitting with their mobile phones or tablets whilst their children sit on their mobile phones or tablets and no matter how brilliant and engaging they are, they are not sharing an event. The Sagas of Noggin the Nog is an event, an experience to be shared. Last year at the Lighthouse, Poole whilst talking to the audience afterwards, we met four generations of one family who had watched the show together: there was something quite magical about that … four generations talking about a shared experience.


So, we want to take the play to more venues, to be seen by more people. For this, we are taking the show to Edinburgh. The festival is the biggest showcase for performance in the world. If we are going to take The Sagas of Noggin the Nog to a wider audience, move it onto another level, we have to be there. There will be thousands of theatre professionals, venue bookers, producers and so on at the festival; we have to let them see our show, meet them, talk to them; we have to create an interest in the play in order for it to go further.

Sunday 6th July

As I sit here on a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon I am aware of all of the thousands of things we have to achieve in the next few weeks. Most imminently is the next week of rehearsal and the preview at Theatre Royal Margate; we are doing two performances, one in the afternoon for schools (which is free) and one in the evening for the general public. Follow the link for more information.

We then have to prepare everything for the Edinburgh Festival. Not least of which is raising a little more money to make it viable. We have set up a Kickstarter project to this end … if you can help us by backing the show we would be most appreciative. Again, follow the link.

Noggin Rides Again … Again!

 A tired and lonely Graculus flies across an empty stage looking for somewhere to alight and rest and maybe even meet friends to share a story with … to no avail. The theatre is empty and dark; everyone has gone. The audience hasn’t sat in this theatre for almost a year. It is sad, quiet and empty. The only sound that can be heard, apart from the rustle of Graculus’ feathers, is the wind blowing through an ajar window, the occasional drip, drip, drip of water in the pipes and the gentle footsteps of the theatre ghost (they all have one) as it walks across the dusty floor of the dark and echoey auditorium. The box office is closed, the lights are off and dust has settled on the ancient ticket machine. The leather swivel chair stands alone and forlorn with two faint impressions of the last person to sit upon its hand-knitted cushion. The ice-cream tray lays on the ground … forgotten. On the floor, a programme, open at the middle pages, flutters in the gentle breeze that creeps under the locked and bolted front door. It is a sad and lonely sight.

But …

… watch this space, for soon those lovely chaps from Third Party will arrive, from a distant part of the world, in their wonderful Nogbulance. They will, as if by magic, sweep away the dust, turn on the lights, fill the ice cream tray and recreate the Sagas of Noggin the Nog before your very eyes. They will bring laughter, happiness and a big drum to this sad and dismal scene. There will be tales of Dragons and a little man from the Hot Water Valley, there will be a ukelele, there will be much singing and merriment, there will be fear as the worrisome Nogbad the Bad tries to cheat Noggin the Nog from his rightful inheritance. There will be a great storm and a little boat … there will of course be scones and jam and pots of tea. You will meet Noggin the Nog, “the crows”, Grunehilde the Lazy One, Thornogson, Ignora the maid, Graculus the great green bird and, in the safe and entertaining hands of the Nogs, you will be transported to the wonderful world of … Noggin the Nog!

Those lovely chaps at Third Party are touring The Saga of Noggin the Nog once again!

The ticker-tape machine is whirring away in the corner and spewing out masses of information, including times, dates and venues so … watch this space for news of The Saga of Noggin the Nog.

The Eyes Have It ... the Eyes Dragon.

The Eyes Have It … the Eyes Dragon.

Noggin Rides Again!

ThorNogson and Noggin

ThorNogson and Noggin

The Lowry and Jackson’s Lane have been Nogged!

What an incredible few weeks it has been for the intrepid Noggin the Nog team. We have been up motorways and down, in sleet, snow and disgusting excruciatingly priced coffee! Though have we been daunted … NO! Last weekend saw the good people of Manchester/Salford and North London getting well and truly Nogged! And there’s a lot more Nogging to be done, (slip over to the Where and When page to find out where and when … funnily). We have the last little leg of our initial tour to do and then major work on organising a second tour in the autumn and possibly Christmas. But we do have some wonderful reviews to help us to sell it this time … I’ve put the links to the reviews at the bottom of this post and also, if I can work out how to do it, in the side bar … I’ve always wanted a side bar … somewhere handy for keeping tea, soft drinks and hot buttered toast!

Last weekend was cold … as you probably know … we did get-ins in sub-zero temperatures and only moaned a little bit but the audiences turned out in their thousands, well, hundreds … hurrah! The Lowry was a splendid place to be and a wonderful and happy team of front of house and back-stage crew helped us to make the day a jolly time. The Friday night in Salford consisted mainly of eating at The Matchstick Man or Men, I can’t recall … a public house where drinks of all sorts could be purchased (we went for Ovaltine and Cocoa) and a Mammoth Fish Supper (there wasn’t any mammoth in it, I was quite disappointed). And then early to bed, like all good actors. The following morning, we awoke, did our Nog Army exercises, brushed our toothy pegs and leapt into the van, lively and invigorated! We pulled our van (it is actually an old ambulance and has been wittily named, the Nogbulance) up to the dock doors of the theatre next to an almighty articulated beast of a lorry and felt very small. On enquiry, we discovered that the truck was for Marty Pellow’s kit … for it was he who was performing on the main stage. The Hollies were due too … so, with the over-fifty year old Noggin the Nog, we felt in good company. The stage crew helped us haul, heave and hump our kit onto the stage and then began the task of lighting it. This is where the Mr Anthony Gleave comes into his own. He talked them through all of the lighting, sorted out the projectors and conversed about technical things; a conversation that seem to consist mainly of numbers, widgets and terribly unlikely names … but they all seemed to know what they were talking about … frightening! Meanwhile, the rest of us stood around and wondered if there would be a cup of coffee and a biscuit organised soon.

By the afternoon we are set up and ready to go … the audience enter and there was that wonderful expectant buzz that accompanies all audiences … the adrenalin begins to flow. We get the all clear and wait for the house-lights to go … a hush settles on the audience and Max enters with a big bass drum. He stops, stands and looks at the audience then, boom, boom, boom, boom … after the drum, he growls, as only the Men of the North can do … and the audience chuckle: the show is going to be a good one! And indeed it is. At the end of the show and after the applause, which was warm and long, we stayed and chatted to the audience until the Front of House staff were champing at the bit. For us, this is one of the nicest moment of the event … chatting to the audience. We do it after every show … it is a chance for us to meet the people who we are performing the play for, and as we rely on them to help us make the show a success (we really are all in it together), it seems only right that we should have a natter.

The last member of the audience leave, the Front of House staff have picked up the sweetie wrappers and discarded fluff and lost items and we start to clear the stage. All that, only a few short hours ago, we humped and heaved onto the stage, we now heave and hump back into the van. The back doors of the Nogbulance are eventually closed and four weary but happy performers say goodbye to the Lowry and head for London, through snow, sleet and even more excruciatingly  overpriced and average coffee and another bread based snack … where we  set up and do it all over again for a different but equally lovely audience at Jackson’s Lane.

Grunehilde the Lazy One and her maid, Ignora.

Grunehilde the Lazy One and her maid, Ignora.

I really wanted to put a photograph of the Nogbulance there but I haven’t got one … I will remedy this in time for the next or the next next post … so keep watching this space. The next leg of the tour, during which we are hoping for more seasonal weather, we will be riding the Nogbulance hither and thither, bringing the good people of England, the wonderful and, as a young member of the audience at the Lowry said, “well-wicked”, production of The Saga of Noggin the Nog.

See you all there!

Here are the links …


The Ice Dragon Cometh … Again?

Batty Dragon Picture 1

The show goes on …

Today is WORLD DAY OF THEATRE FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE … catchy little title isn’t it! I have a half-remembered quote from Ken Russell about children’s theatre (if anyone can remember or can find the original quote then let me know) “To make good children’s theatre, you make good theatre and don’t let adults in” … something like that. The reason I mention this is that it is a truism that so many people seem to forget. I have seen so many plays for children and “young people” (aren’t children young people too?), where the company making the theatre have created something that is brightly coloured and bland, condescending and disdainful, pointless in every way apart from making them a few quid and the theatre that they produce is generally beneath contempt.

The Ice Dragon Cometh

The Ice Dragon Cometh

I have only once been so outraged by something enough to telephone the local radio station.

This was a number of years ago in a town called Portsmouth. There was a well-known “celebrity” in a professional (I use the word loosely) pantomime. She, for it happened to be someone of that gender, was being interviewed on the local radio station. The interviewer said, “it must be enormously tiring doing so many performances every week”. The “celebrity” replied, “yes, it is but the matinees are mainly kids so we take it easy in them and pull out all the stops for the evening performances when there are a lot more adults in the audience”. I rang the radio station immediately and with venom and disbelief welling up inside me , I asked to talk to the interviewer and “celebrity”. The person who took my call passed me onto the producer of the programme who would not let me get on air because I might “rock the boat; this is a family show, you know” … I explained to him that families often consisted of adults and children and that in my world and the world of theatre and the arts both were equally important. He could tell that I was “rather cross” and said, in a depressingly condescending way, “that you (meaning me) obviously don’t understand how professionals have to conserve their energy for the important performances …” blah, blah, blah. I didn’t hear the rest of his patronising sentence because I was beside myself with anger.

The reason I mention this is because in my thirty-five years of working in the theatre, I have come across this attitude more times than I care to remember. Why? I am not really sure but I think that there is a “pride thing” … actors want to be seen to be good, to be great performers, and often, they misguidedly assume that it is adults who are the best judges of talent. I think that there is also, in some actors, a feeling that performing to children is something that you do whilst you are learning your craft and the real test of their talent, is in front of an adult audience; that you have to go through the performing to children stage before you are allowed out into the real world of performance in front of grown-ups. I have also heard companies say, “We just do children’s theatre to make a few quid”. There seems to be, in some people, a belief that children and young people are not important … and yet I was a child and a young person once.

John Wright wonders if jumping from a fifth storey window will improve matters.

John Wright wonders if jumping from a fifth storey window will improve matters.

The Saga of Noggin the Nog …

John Wright, who directed the play, is a world renowned director, he has created shows all over the world, with different companies, in different styles and with one audience in mind … the one who comes to see the show. We know that because of the content of our play, the majority of people who come to see it are family audiences; usually one or two parents with their children. Sometimes it is grandparents with their grandchildren and sometimes it is just adults. The play is designed as good theatre that lets everyone in. It is not a children’s show, it is certainly not a “kidz” show; it is a show for people. We crafted the show, based on the original stories of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, to charmingly, inventively and beautifully share a story. But as Michael Morpurgo said, “The power of theatre, whether for young or old, lies in the collaboration of stories and ideas, the actors (and everyone back stage too of course) and most importantly the audience – we all make the play together, live it together, suspending disbelief together, bound in the same imaginative endeavour”.

Our theory of theatre is that everybody in the room, whether it be a theatre, an arts centre, a village hall, a disused Victorian Slaughterhouse, or wherever, are all in it together. We create this ephemeral event between us and because of that we are all as important as everyone else. At the end of the performance we come out and chat … we don’t disappear into a dressing room, rub our hands and say, “next”; we want to meet you, to chat to you, to find out a bit about you, to find out if you enjoyed the event and even ask if there were bits you didn’t enjoy. This to us is what theatre is all about!

We are very proud of The Saga of Noggin the Nog … we are still playing with sections of it, still tweaking it, still altering little bits here and there, to make it as good as we possibly can … we will not “make do”. In fact, yesterday, we had a day long meeting to discuss, not only the performance and how we can make it better but also, what are we doing with it next. As you can see from the Where and When section of this blog, we still have a dozen or so performances left on this leg of the tour (do try and see the show if you haven’t already). And we would like to extend the tour or, more precisely, create a new tour … we have had so many wonderful comments about the show from so many people we feel that it should definitely be seen in a lot more theatres. And we are enjoying it!

As always the audience is the reason we do it …

Yes, we need to earn money, like everyone else, to pay the mortgage, the phone bill, buy food and shoes but if we were just interested in money we would be bankers not theatre makers. The desire that we all have to meet people and to create and share our stories is what drives us. The Saga of Noggin the Nog will return (if we can raise more money) so do pop onto this blog regularly to see what we are up to and share it with as many friends as possible.

“… the Men of the Northlands sit around their great log fires … and they tell a tale …”


On the road … number 1.

The Hawth has been Nogged!

The Lighthouse has been Nogged!

Norden Farm has been Nogged!

Norden Farm 1 Tony Lighthouse1 Lighthouse Stage 1

Just returned from the morning show at The LightHouse, Poole. Utterly brilliant show – couldn’t praise it highly enough, so thank you very, very much! My husband has been a long time fan of Noggin The Nog and some years ago we purchased the entire set of Sagas on video from the lovely Loaf at Dragon’s Friendly Society, so seeing this was a ‘must’, and we weren’t disappointed. From Beverly Evans, Lighthouse, Poole

Noggin the Nog at Lighthouse Poole today – tommy aged 9 gives it 10/10! Delightful gentle and inventive show and not just for children so if you grew up with Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin it’s a must. From Stephanie Jalland, Lighthouse, Poole

Hi, Nogs, Thank you for the show. I liked when the when Noggin the Nog drummed the drum, Jodie (7#

Hi, Noggin the Nog, I liked when Noggin the Nog and Thor Nogson climbed onto the dragon. It was very funny. I am 5.

Hi, I am their mum and we had such a nice time that the children are making their own performance of Noggin the Nog for when their Dad gets in. Home Education is great for this sort of thing. Thank you, that was their first trip to the theatre and they are looking forward to seeing something else. Just brilliant. Gina From Gina Baldock Lighthouse, Poole

If you stroll across to the “Where and When” page on this blog you will be able to see that we have been touring “The Saga of Noggin the Nog” for a few days now … we started at The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and we are currently in the van on the way to Telford (so it must be Wednesday). It is ridiculously cold; I know this because we have just stopped for a comfort break (or a wee, as we used to call it) and during the short walk between the van and the most expensive (and yet somehow still, unbelievably, below average) cup of coffee known to man, my teeth chattered so hard I was in danger of rattling my NHS fillings into dust.

So, how is it going? Well, to be honest it is going better than we could have hoped for … audiences are very excited about the show; they love it. It is going down a storm, as can be seen from the unsolicited comments from audience members above. It is a good show; it is funny, it is great storytelling, its exciting and, as Jane Corry, Director of Norden Farm, said after the performance, “it is a visual feast”. We always work very hard on maintaining high production values.

It seems to be a surprise to many venues just how good the show is and how much audiences are enjoying it, and that in itself is quite exciting but it also gives us a problem; how do we let audiences and venues know just how good it is! We’ve talked about putting a short section of the show on You Tube or Vimeo but a video just doesn’t capture the relationship that we build with the audience, which is very much a part of the beauty of the show; it is this relationship that we have with audiences that draws them in, allows them to relax and to be very much a part of the event. Also, and let’s be honest here, we have all seen some fabulous videos of productions where, unfortunately, the video is better than the show … often a lot of style over content. A good video does not a good theatre performance make.

Snogging the Snog: Noggin and Nooka of the Nooks.

Snogging the Snog: Noggin and Nooka of the Nooks.

The beauty of “The Saga of Noggin the Nog” is that it is a good , well made show whether you are familiar with Noggin the Nog or not. For some “old-timers”, there is a nostalgic extra to the show but for others who have never seen or even heard of Noggin, it is still a fabulous hour and ten minutes. Our audiences have comprised hardened older Noggin fans with their grandchildren (and sometimes without their grandchildren), young families who have read the books or seen the DVDs and some who have never heard of Noggin the Nog … and they all seem to enjoy the show with the same fervour.

Grunehilde the Lazy One and her maid, Ignora.

Grunehilde the Lazy One and her maid, Ignora.

I am at the moment sitting in the dressing room at the Oakengate Theatre in Telford and, on   stage, people dressed all in black are running up and down ladders,  shouting indecipherable techie things at each other and generally being “jolly good eggs”. The show will look fabulous in here.

So, if you haven’t been Nogged yet … have a look at the touring schedule and find a venue near you. We will be touring again, later in the year, so if you can’t find a convenient venue … keep watching this space.


Noggin the Nog

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 …


… 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.

Rehearsals …

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!

Clive Holland