Why Noggin the Nog?

Noggin the Nog enthrals the average British family

Noggin the Nog enthrals the average British family

The Sagas of Noggin the Nog were first shown on British television in 1959. It was made by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate. They also made Pogle’s Wood, Ivor the Engine, Bagpuss, the Clangers and loads of others: the stuff that many childhoods were made of. The films were made in less frenetic times. The stories were beautifully crafted and the characters carefully drawn … but the films were also quite, quite mad! Vikings who appear to come from Surbiton, who are constantly stopping for tea and toast, who will go on any adventure at the drop of a hat. And what adventures! Travelling to the other ends of the earth to meet a possible bride. Travelling to the Hot Water Valley to do battle with an Ice Dragon that is ruining the farmer’s crops. There was a Goon-ish silliness about the tales. It was these qualities that attracted us to the Sagas and made us want to create a piece of theatre that would do justice to the marvellous nonsense of Firmin and Postgate.

Queen Grunhilde the Lazy One and her maid, Ignora!

Queen Grunhilde the Lazy One and her maid, Ignora!

The stories feel utterly modern though laced with the sensibilities of gentler times. When we came to make the play we referenced the Goons, Monty Python and cartoons that adorned our telly screens … Tom and Jerry, Road Runner and even Scooby Doo and Danger Mouse. The resulting piece of theatre is Pythonesque in its clever silliness, Goon-ish in its character driven narrative, cartoonish in its “feel” and Firmin and Postgate-ish in its attitudes.

“The Nogs are a charmingly mild-mannered bunch of Vikings. They sound a bit like Terry Jones, they look a bit like him too. Except for Noggin. Noggin the Nog, their young leader, is handsome in a Viking sort of way. From my seat in the audience I was almost picked to marry him. But Noggin decided on the Princess of the Nooks instead. They bonded over cocoa and hot buttered toast.
Buttered toast is very important to the Nogs. There’s no threat so desperate, be it storm-lashed seas or marauding dragons, that they can’t stop to make toast round the sine qua non of Viking icoNOGraphy: a glowing camp fire.
The first ever stage production of Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate’s much loved television series retains the homespun, low-tech aesthetic of the original without looking in any way amateurish.
While much of the low-key humour derives from the sort of knowledge of the series which belongs to the older members of the audience, there’s still plenty of fun for the younger ones. It’s a close call as to who enjoys it more, the children or their grandparents.
An expertly acted, beautifully realised stage play with the warm charm of a bedtime story.”

Amanda Kriek’s ★★★★ review for The Independent

I have reprinted this because it sort of bears out what I was getting at.

RWD15_Noggin The Nog_Dragon PNG

The Sagas of Noggin the Nog play is a fairly gentle madcap dash with live music, created on an old and charming harmonium, high-tech projection of Peter Firmin’s original drawings, beautiful puppets both small and, in the case of the dragon, blooming big, some clever theatrical tricks and a cast of Vikings that always appear to get through to the end of the play despite much giddy recklessness and a terribly English absurdity en route.

Nostalgia is often levelled at the play and, of course, the play is based on a 1959 stop motion film, so there is a nostalgic feel to the piece but it is also very much a modern play. It does the play a dis-service to think of it as purely nostalgic. The play is truly cross-generational (I hate that phrase, it sort of puts the play into a pigeon hole that is so big you could get a Giant Bustard in it) … it has been performed to people from babes in arms to much more elderly people (87 years old I seem to remember in one audience). And is enjoyed by all … everyone says that, I know but it really is true of Noggin the Nog. The play is sort of “panto-esque” (not my phrase) but only in the sense that it has a baddy, a few songs, is funny and has a sort of Dame in Queen Grunhilde … but it differs in that it does not have one section for children, dirty smutty innuendos for adults and an inapposite modern pop song for the fairy tale character to “get down” to … the stories and the way we portray them are genuinely accessible and can be understood and often laughed at by all.

So … come and see it.

Follow this link to find out where and when.

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Zooming to Brighton … Slowly! Part 2

We left the indomitable Nogs at the “Edinburgh Festival Stage Stage” at the end of the last post … which is down there 🔽 … or just scroll! Did I mention the rain in Edinburgh? Oh, did it rain, Dear Reader! However, despite the rain, the Nogs performed every day (almost, we had a day off per week) for a month and audiences flocked in … which was fortunate as we definitely needed to recoup some of the “Plastic Money” that we had spent on getting there in the first place. We had a fabulous festival not only as a company but also as individuals … I saw theatre great, theatre poor, theatre exciting, theatre weird, theatre absurd, theatre beautiful, theatre intellectual and theatre downright awful but that is the way of festivals! I met a great many amazing people. I listened to incredible musicians. I walked by the canal. I drank beer and ate incredibly well. I handed out Noggin flyers (in the rain, of course … it was sometimes quite difficult handing people who were clutching bags, children and umbrellas a flyer that had the consistency of papier mache). I even had an evening at the whisky society … I was very careful … I counted the steps on the way in so I knew how many I could fall down at the end. Did I mention the rain?

There were a lot of these in Edinburgh!

There were a lot of these in Edinburgh!

The main reasons for us taking “The Sagas of Noggin the Nog” to the Edinburgh Festival was to give the play a longer life, to introduce new audiences to Noggin, to bring the original films and books to the attention of the general public and to create a bit of a buzz around the wonderful and charming stories of Firmin and Postgate. Our audiences literally ranged from babes in arms to Methuselah and his mother. We had Grandparents with their Grandchildren, Grandparents without their Grandchildren, young families, whole generations of families, young people on their own, groups of young adults, middle aged Noggin groupies and a great number of bookers, venue directors, producers and many other theatre and arts professionals … and occasionally drips of rain that crept in through the canvas roof and threatened to soak our projectors and us. We also had a number of reviewers that came in to see the play … and fortunately, they enjoyed it. We had some fabulous reviews, ★★★★ and ★★★★★ and, more important in a way, lots of people who had seen the show wanting to talk to us about it … and where can we buy the books, DVDs, and so on … the answer is at the bottom of this post, Dear Reader.

Nogs enjoy the Edinburgh Summer!

Nogs enjoy the Edinburgh Summer!

Our exciting and tiring sojourn in the land of whisky, theatre and rain eventually came to an end. We loaded up the Nogbulance and headed south and … home! This we called the “What Do We Do Now Stage”. It is hard trying to readapt to home life after a month of fun and nonsense (oh, and hard work). We debriefed … see a previous post . We rested. We moved on to other projects … and we started to create a National tour for the Autumn of 2015. We were incredibly fortunate to meet someone who wanted to support the play financially … and so we began to plot. In our heads, which are often slightly fuzzy at the best of times it has to be said, we were working towards an Autumn tour … then … the Brighton Festival came along and asked us if we would perform over the May Bank Holiday in the Theatre Royal Brighton. This we called the “Oh Blimey, May Stage” May didn’t quite fit into our plans but … the whole point of Edinburgh was to create a Noggin buzz and work for the Noggin team and here it was being offered to us on a plate … the “Plastic Money” investment was beginning to pay off. So, we cranked up the producers (Me and Tony) and tried to get the team back together again …. which we almost did except that Nick had prior engagements and so we asked another fine performer and all round good egg; Kevin James if he would like to become a Nog … and he said yes!

We had new costumes made. We had a new set built and painted (it was still wet during the final rehearsal). We had the Ice Dragon rebuilt (to make him taller and give him wings). We had a new Ronf, the little fellow from the Hot Water Valley, built. We re-imagined and re-rehearsed the whole of the second half of the play. We added a new song. We bought a new brighter (and therefore more expensive) Video Projector. We wanted two but that was too much for the bank to bear. We all turned up for a week in a rehearsal studio in North London and set to work. This we called the “Brighton Festival Stage”.

A naked prototype humanet of Ronf, the little man from the Hot Water Valley.

A naked prototype humanet of Ronf, the little man from the Hot Water Valley.

And now a note of sadness … (violins play) … THE NOGBULANCE IS NO MORE! Our trusty old ambulance that has transported the Nogs and all of their kit, has gone to the scrapyard in the sky! It wasn’t dramatic it just wound to a halt and made a strange strangled noise … which proved to be terminal. We managed to hire a van from Proteus Theatre in Basingstoke and transferred the set and props and said goodbye to a trusty old friend.

Nogbulance 2

The Nogbulances Final Resting Place … by the railway lines in Battle!

These things are sent to try us … and they did, try us, I mean. Losing your Nogbulance when you need to move all of your kit to Theatre Royal Brighton is very trying indeed … crikey, we said, and stamped our feet. But … we made it to Brighton. There will be another post shortly that will give more details of the last few days of rehearsal and our weekend by the sea in Brighton.

In the meantime … if you would like to purchase a book or a DVD, then follow the link.

http://www.dragons-friendly-society.co.uk/main.htm

 

Zooming Towards Brighton … Slowly! Part 1

The road to Brighton (and beyond) has been a long one … and relatively slow, with lots of twists, turns, the odd blank road-sign and a surprisingly large amount of rain. For those who know nothing about our production of The Sagas of Noggin the Nog here is a bit of history; for those who do, a recap.

800px-Theatre_Royal_Brighton

The view that Noggin will have at Theatre Royal Brighton

 

 

In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long … Tony Gleave and Clive Holland sat and plotted. They talked of producing a piece of theatre that was genuinely for families, indeed, genuinely for the old and the young and everyone in between. Earlier in the day they had wandered along the beach in Margate and had become excited by the mention of Noggin the Nog. And now, with the odd bottle of beer and a salty snack, they talked long into the night.

Noggin the Nog enthrals the average British family

Noggin the Nog enthrals the average British family

A Noggin Note: The Sagas of Noggin the Nog was an iconic television series that began in the 1950s by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate (Bagpuss, The Clangers, Ivor the Engine, etc); it was shown on the BBC.

As the beer evaporated and the talk became more animated … they began to plot and plan. They met up with Peter Firmin and Dan Postgate (son of Oliver) and asked if they could have the rights to produce a play: yes … oh joy! They were fortunate to receive a small grant from Arts Council England and collected a coterie of creative people … designers, directors, puppeteers, musicians, actors and put them all in a room at the same time. This they called “The Research and Development Stage”. They spent almost two weeks getting nowhere … and a couple of days working out what they should have been doing in the days when they were getting nowhere.

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.

By the end of “The Research and Development Stage” they had a good idea of how they were going to make the play. And so, some months later, with a two week run at The New Diorama, London, planned, and a short tour organised, “The Research and Development Stage” became “The Rehearsal stage”.

During “The Rehearsal Stage” puppets were designed and built, costumes created, music and songs written, video of the original films of Firmin and Postgate was created, a script developed and, eventually, a piece of theatre called “The Sagas of Noggin the Nog” was born. Oh, how happy they all were. A two week run at The New Diorama, was followed with a short tour of theatres large and arts centres small.

Dragon in Van

Groliffe the Ice Dragon gets the best seat in “The Nogbulance”

They bought an old ambulance to tour around the country like the travelling players of yore; it was very quickly renamed “The Nogbulance” (more of this later). They travelled north, south, east and west. They drank dreadful and outrageously expensive coffee, they had more curries than was wise, they slept in hard beds, soft beds, beds that were too small, beds that were as big as Wembley Stadium, they drank beer of every region and … they performed “The Play” to thousands of people young and old and everything in between. The tour was deemed, by all and sundry, a huge success. Venues loved it, audiences loved it, the media loved it, we loved it but … by the end of the tour and despite “The Play” being highly regarded, their bank account stood at forty-three pounds twenty-seven! “The Touring Stage” is terribly expensive and despite brilliant audience numbers (most venues sold out), they struggled to make it pay.

For those of you who are artists ... this is what money looks like

For those of you who are artists … this is what money looks like

All went quiet for a while. This they called “The Quiet Stage”. Tony Gleave and Clive Holland sat long into the night and ummed and aahed. They knew that the play was good. They knew that people wanted to see it. They knew that there must be a way to make it a viable proposition. They drank more beer. They ate more salty snacks. They went for a curry. They became quite depressed. They worked on other projects. Then … one day, Tony Gleave said to Clive Holland, “Why don’t we take it to the Edinburgh Festival?”

“Because it is terribly expensive and we only have forty-three pounds twenty-seven.”

“Yes … but we do have credit cards!”

Thus began the “We Have Found a Whole New Way to Lose Money Stage” otherwise known as the “Edinburgh Festival Stage Stage”.

They found a venue. They filled in the forms. They re-created the play to fit into a one hour slot. They had thousands of fliers and posters printed. They found somewhere to stay. They ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise money. They went to Edinburgh. The first two days were beautiful sunshine. They had been lulled into a false sense of security. The rest of the month it rained. It was windy. And it rained. And it was cold. And it rained. And their venue was a tent! A beautiful theatre tent. A tent with a wooden floor. A tent with wooden walls. A tent with a canvas roof!

The wooden walled, wooden floored, canvas roofed but beautiful theatre tent

The wooden walled, wooden floored, canvas roofed beautiful theatre tent

They had arrived to discover that one of their boxes of leaflets had … disappeared, that their digs were not as large or as plush as they had been led to believe. They were happy though because they were at the “Edinburgh Festival Stage Stage” … and then the rain came.

As we are almost as far from Brighton as we can be and yet still be in the UK, there will be another post to continue the story. The next part of this post shall be intelligently called “Zooming Towards Brighton … Slowly! Part 2” and will appear soon … do pop back!

 

Noggin Goes To Brighton: Number 1

King Noggin It seems like such a long time since we last chatted … oh, looking back at the last post, it is quite a long time but never mind, I’m here now. A great number of things have happened since the last post (which in the Lands of the North is about 11 AM, actually, to be honest, we only have one post). For a start, Peter Firmin, he who drew the original cartoons of The Sagas of Noggin the Nog, as well as Ivor the Engine, the Clangers, Bagpuss, to name but a few, received a Special Award from Bafta on 23rd November 2014.

Peter Firmin

Peter Firmin

“The Special Award recognises an individual’s outstanding contribution to children’s media and the entertainment industry. This year, it will be presented by Bernard Cribbins OBE with a special introduction by Michael Palin CBE. Harvey Elliott, Chairman of BAFTA’s Children’s Committee, said: “Peter Firmin helped lay the foundations for the industry we see today, all from his small barn in Blean. His legacy is delighting and enchanting a whole new generation with the upcoming remake of family favourite The Clangers. Over the past 50 years, Peter’s work has thrilled, entertained and inspired generations of filmmakers and animators and he is more than deserving of the Special Award at this year’s British Academy Children’s Awards.”

Huge congratulations to Peter from all of us on The Sagas of Noggin the Nog theatre team.

Also, a brand new book by Four Corners Books, The Art of Smallfilms; The Work of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, Edited by Jonny Trunk and with an Introduction by Stewart Lee, was published last year … it is a beautiful book and definitely worth purchasing for your lonely coffee table.

Follow this link to take you to the Four Corners Books Website.

small films book cover 1Small Films Book 2

The other exciting news is that The Sagas of Noggin the Nog is going to be at the Theatre Royal Brighton as part of the Brighton Festival on the 23rd and 24th May 2015. You can follow the link below to take you to the Brighton Festival Website … where tickets may be purchased for a very small amount of local currency!

http://brightonfestival.org/event/5917/the_sagas_of_noggin_the_nog/

Further News … does it never stop! The Sagas of Noggin the Nog will be touring from October 2015 through to the spring of 2016 starting at Polka Theatre Wimbledon. I’ve popped a link down below to the Polka Theatre Website but we don’t appear on it yet as their What’s On guide only goes up to August but you can always save the link till nearer the time.

http://www.polkatheatre.com/index.php

In honour of performing in Brighton and the rest of the world (bits of it) we have done some serious work on the play. For a start we have remade the whole of the second half of the play, added a new song, created new costumes and all of the puppets have had a bit of a make-over … especially Groliffe the Ice Dragon.

Ronf the New Groliffe and Kevin 3

Groliffe has grown and Ronf, the little man from the Hot Water Valley has changed beyond recognition (at the moment he is quite, quite naked but I promise he will be clothed by the time we arrive in Brighton). Groliffe has new wings, is taller and, since this photograph was taken, has had a new operating mechanism fitted as well as a new paint job. It is all very exciting and, on top of that, we are extremely pleased with the new second half. So, even if you’ve already seen the play it is definitely worth a second or even third visit!

Hopefully we’ll see some of you at least at the Theatre Royal Brighton … be there or definitely be Un-Nogged!