Archive for play

The Mouse and His Child – the play

The Mouse and His Child – wonderful book! – is now a play!

And to make it complete, there’s a clockwork installation from the MAD museum.


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Alexander Calder and his circus

Alexander Calder, Little Clown, the Trumpeteer, from Calder’s Circus, 1926–31. Wire, cloth, paint, yarn, thread, rhinestone buttons, electrical tape, rubber tubing, and metal horn, 12 × 3 1/2 × 3 in. (30.5 × 8.9 × 7.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from a public fundraising campaign in May 1982. One half of the funds were contributed by the Robert Wood Johnson Jr. Charitable Trust. Additional major donations were given by The Lauder Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation Inc., the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation Inc., an anonymous donor, The T.M. Evans Foundation Inc., MacAndrews & Forbes Group Incorporated, the De Witt Wallace Fund Inc., Martin and Agneta Gruss, Anne Phillips, Mr. and Mrs. Laurance S. Rockefeller, the Simon Foundation Inc., Marylou Whitney, Bankers Trust Company, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth N. Dayton, Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz, Irvin and Kenneth Feld, Flora Whitney Miller. More than 500 individuals from 26 states and abroad also contributed to the campaign  83.36.8a-d© 2009 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photograph © Whitney Museum of American ArtRoll up! roll up! Come and see some amazing children’s picture books full of the creativity of artists and inventors….

Books like The Day-Glo Brothers about the two brothers that gave us Day-Glo paint:


Or A River of Words about the poet William Carlos Williams:

I came across another recently. It’s called Sandy’s Circus, and it’s about the sculptor Alexander Calder:

This is about just one part of Calder’s amazing creativity – when he was in Paris and created a circus out of wire and bits and bobs. Here’s a video of him with the circus later in life:



As a boy, his parents always made sure “Sandy” had a workshop and tools.

He made his friends toys and jewellery from scraps of wood, leather and wire he would pick off the street. Sandy built his sister Peggy a castle for her doll – complete with a moat! He and Peggy made toy animals and played circus in the workshop.

The next year, 1926, he decided to go to Paris. Why Paris? Because that city was alive with art. And Sandy said, “In Paris it’s a compliment to be called crazy.” Sandy rode through the streets of Paris on his orange bicycle. He carried a roll of wire around his shoulder and a pair of pliers in his pocket.

When Sandy bumped into a friend, out came the wire and pliers. He would twist and bend and curl while he chatted. And before they said adieu, Sandy would give his friend a gift – voila! A small portrait of the person – made of wire.

The wire pictures are a bit like the ones he drew for a version of Aesop I have illustrated by him.

And I hadn’t realised that Alexander Calder invented the mobile (as in the hanging sculpture, not the portable telephone of course). It seems so ubiquitous and… obvious, that the thought of it being invented so recently is strange.

Here’s someone with a very long spoon actuating a couple of Calder’s mobiles:

And here’s one self-actuated:

“All Calders tend to make someone happy”:

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More War Horse

(c) Bridget Worth

It’s curious what fiction can do, how a painting in a story can become a real painting. Such a picture,  invented in War Horse had to be created for real. I’m copying this blog:

Morpurgo’s myth revealed

By Emily Butcher | Published: 31 OCTOBER 2011

After 20 years, Michael Morpurgo reveals the hidden truth behind the opening lines of his hugely popular novel War Horse, in a warm and humorous interview with Clare Balding.

In the old school they now use for the village hall, below the clock that has stood always at one minute past ten, hangs a small dusty painting of a horse. He stands, a splendid red bay with a remarkable white cross emblazoned on his forehead and with four perfectly matched white socks. He looks wistfully out of the picture, his ears pricked forward, his head turned as if he has just noticed us standing there.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Little did Michael know, when he first drafted these fictional lines back in 1981, what a worldwide success his book, and the subsequent National Theatre stage production, would become; nor the havoc it would wreak on a certain Mrs Weeks of Iddesleigh, Devon.

Mrs Weeks, the lady who now lives next to the village hall mentioned in Michael’s opening lines, is regularly inundated with War Horse enthusiasts searching for the painting of Joey. However, their quest has always been in vain as the painting has never existed…until now.

To help Mrs Weeks stave off disappointed visitors, Michael asked Ali Bannister, the equine artist from the upcoming Spielberg-directed film, to create an oil painting ofJoey. And, before it takes pride of place on the wall of Iddesleigh village hall, visitors to the National Army Museum can see the painting displayed for the first time ever in the War Horse: Fact & Fiction exhibition.


“I go about once every six weeks to make sure it’s still there”!

… and now, watching this, I realise there’s a sequel, and one of those beautifully drawn and painted books by Michael Foreman (I’ve mentioned these before), and Morpurgo’s favourite among his books…

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War Horse

With the film coming out, I thought it was about time we read Michael’s Morpurgo‘s book, and even, if possible, went to see the play with its amazing horse puppets.

Naturally, you have to think, is it suitable for children? It’s a children’s book, and a children’s play, but for what age? It’s a book about World War I after all. There’s the trenches, there’s killing, death.

I downloaded the book from in audio format – and we’re listening to it now in the car on the way to and from school. John Keating has an unusually slow and deliberate way of reading, but he does the accents very well.

As for the play, I’ve been looking at booking some seats in the spring. Checking the reviews, I thought the Guardian one was interesting:

 …it seems excessively fortuitous that Joey, captured by the enemy, falls into the caring hands of a German captain as horse-obsessed as Albert . And when the rescued Joey in 1918 is saved from slaughter only by a jammed pistol it seems providence is working overtime. But the narrative failings are overcome by the brilliant work of the Handspring Puppet Company…

Is it really excessively fortuitous? Is providence really working overtime? It is a children’s story after all. Aren’t children entitled to identify with the characters in their books, to want them to survive, succeed? Michael Morpurgo is taking his readers on a harrowing journey into the horror of the Great War. This is not a formula book; you don’t know where it’s going to take you. Before we started it I needed to check that the protagonist, Joey, doesn’t die in the end. (And he doesn’t in the play or the film.) The book is telling the story of a terrible time.
It’s interesting to listen to Michael Morpurgo talking about it. As he said in the Evening Standard:

I met a man in a pub. It was in my village, The Duke of York, in Iddesleigh in Devon. He was in his eighties and I knew he’d been to the First World War as a young man. For no good reason I happened to ask him what regiment he’d been in. “Devon ­Yeomanry,” he said, “I was there with ‘orses.” He told me things beside the fire in the pub that day that you don’t read in poems or books, that you didn’t see in films. It was as if he was taking me by the hand and showing me, ­passing it on; about living with fear and horror, about how the only person he could talk to was his horse, when he was feeding him at night, alone.

Then some weeks later I came across a picture by one FW Reed, painted in 1917, of British cavalry horses in the First World War charging up a hill towards the German positions, towards the wire. Some were already entangled in it. Like the private in the old song, they were “hanging on the old barbed wire”. I telephoned the Imperial War Museum and asked if they knew how many horses had been killed in the First World War. A million or more, they told me, and that was just in the British army; probably eight million horses died on all sides. With the real possibility now growing in my head that I might write a story about the First World War, not from one side or the other, but from the perspective of a horse that is used by both armies, so that it could be a story of the universal suffering of that war, or any war, I began my research.

And how will the film be? Blockbusters, family films, can be clichéd, sentimental. Trailers even more so:

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39 fables

I always thought an installation with lots of Aesop’s fables would be good. But tonight I discovered that Louis XIV got there before me. He had a maze with 39 Aesop’s fables sculptures put into the Gardens at Versailles. I couldn’t really compete with him.

Here’s Charles Perrault’s wonderful guidebook to the fables and maze.


In 1665, André Le Nôtre planned a maze of unadorned paths in an area south of the Latona Fountain near the Orangerie. In 1669, Charles Perrault – author of the Mother Goose stories – advised Louis XIV to remodel the Labyrinthe in such a way as to serve the Dauphin’s education. Between 1672 and 1677 Le Nôtre redesigned the Labyrinthe to feature thirty-nine fountains that depicted stories from Aesop’s Fables. Each sculpture was accompanied by a plaque on which the fable was printed; from these plaques, Louis XIV’s son learned to read. Once completed in 1677 the Labyrinthe contained thirty-nine fountains with 333 painted metal animal sculptures. The water for the elaborate waterworks was conveyed from the Seine by the Machine de Marly. The Labyrinthe is said to have cost the equivalent of £8,000,000 and contained fourteen water-wheels driving 253 pumps, some of which worked at a distance of three-quarters of a mile.

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What Sam Really Likes 1


Yes, Pokémon

… and it’s a bug he’s had for a few years now. At one point his whole class had it, girls and boys, collecting and swapping the cards every day.

What is the appeal? I’m not completely sure… obviously it was a kind of playground currency, an entry ticket, a conversation topic. But also a collecting and knowing-all-about kind of thing – something that – however un-natural, appeals to the naturalist intelligence

I know I ought to, but I find it hard to learn their names, follow their evolutions, be interested.

My ears did prick up the other day though. “Not everything is as it seems,” Sam said portentiously.
I asked him where that came from. It was from one of his Pokémon DVDs.

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Narrator:  The Mulla Nasrudin was in his house one day when there was a knock on the door. It was his neighbour.

Nasrudin:  Hello neighbour. What do you want?

Neighbour:  Nasrudin, I’m going on holiday for two weeks. Can you look after my 9 chickens for me?

Nasrudin: 9? 9? What is 9?

Neighbour: You know, 9. The number 9. 9 chickens.

Nasrudin:  I am no good with numbers. I don’t understand maths. Don’t say 9.

Neighbour: Let me just leave chickens then.

Nasrudin:  Bring them over.

Narrator:  The neighbour brought the nine chickens over.

The chickens are led over. Nasrudin receives them.

Narrator:  After 2 weeks the neighbour came back from his holiday and came to Nasrudin for his chickens.

Neighbour:  Hello Nasrudin, I’ve come for my chickens.

Nasrudin:  Here they are then.

Neighbour: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8;

Hold it, that’s not right.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8;

Nasrudin? Where is my ninth chicken? There should be 9 but there’s only 8.

Nasrudin:  I’m not good at numbers and I’m no good at maths. Stop talking about 8 and 9. You left chickens, you got chickens back.

Neighbour:  Right, I’m taking you to the judge! And the chickens too!

They all go off to the judge.

Neighbour:  Judge. I left 9 chickens with Nasrudin for him to look after. But he’s only given me 8 back.

Judge:  Is that right, Nasrudin?

Nasrudin:  I don’t understand numbers or maths. He left chickens with me, he got chickens back.

Judge:  But that is one less, Nasrudin

Nasrudin:  ‘Less’ is maths. I don’t understand ‘less’.

Judge:  How can I explain?… (thinks)

I know.

I need 9 volunteers from the audience.

Put your hand up if you can help us.

The judge chooses 9 and waits for silence in court. Then he counts the people:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Nasrudin, let me explain. There are nine people here.

And there are 8 chickens here

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

When I say go, I want each of these volunteers to catch a chicken.

Are you ready?


All the helpers except one catch a chicken.

Now, look Nasrudin. All the chickens have been caught. But one person has no chicken.

Why has this person not got a chicken?

Nasrudin:  Aaah, that is easy!

Judge:  Go on, Nasrudin…

Nasrudin:  Because he wasn’t fast enough!

I did this a while back for ten year olds to perform to younger children. I was lucky with the casting and had a hilarious Nasrudin. The chickens all made chicken hats and insisted on singing a chicken song as they marched in!

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