Monday 29 January 2018

The Owl and The Pussycat Went to Sea...

In October, we headed over to the Lilian Baylis Sudio at Sadlers Wells for a perfectly pitched little production of The Owl and the Pussycat. Designed by Let's All Dance, and performed in an intimate space, it was as if a pair of ballet dancers had come to dance just for us in our own front room.

With thanks to the brilliant album, Funkey Rhymes (see here), the girls have grown up with a really catchy composition that has put Lear's famous poem to music, so they know it very well. The ballet featured just two dancers - an owl, who entered the studio from the back introducing himself to the excited audience, and the sophisticated and rather more aloof cat, with her stunning white tutu.

As we all know, this unlikely pair sailed off for a year and a day in a pea-green boat, persuading pigs to part with prized posessions and turkeys to become ministers. The year on the boat was perhaps less of an issue for owl, who could always stretch his wings, but the cat must have been rather impatient for the sight of land, and a long promised wedding. The dancers brought the iconic poem to life so well with selected props, engaging the audience (and even begging for the ring until they spotted the pig...) At the end every child was invited to have their picture taken with the characters in the pea green boat. It was a perfect length and beautifully created.

Some of the most effective productions are also those that tap into things children already love, and offer the possibility of follow-on activities and books to read. We have various versions of the Owl and the Pussycat, but favourites include two recently published celebrations of Lear's most famous couple. First comes a stunningly illustrated gift version of the original, with drawings by Charlotte Voake and a foreword by Julia Donaldson, then an original sequel from Julia Donaldson, herself a devotee of Lear and his talent for nonsense poetry. Lear originally wrote the illustrated poem for the poorly three year old daughter of a friend, and it is perfect for this age. Charlotte Voake's illustrations are simple yet dynamic. They convey movement, lightheartedness and a splash of childhood joy. I love how they look like watercolours and you can see some of the brushstrokes - a great inspiration for budding artists to emulate. Donaldson's sequel The Further Adventures of the Owl and The Pussy-Cat is also illustrated by Voake, and with Donaldson's seemingly effortless genius with rhyme, the tale continues in seamless form with the honeymoon of the unlikely couple. Following the loss of their wedding ring, the two are thrust on new adventures where they meet many others of Lear's colourful creations - The Pobble who has no toes, the Chankly Bore, even the Jumblies. It's brilliant. A wonderful gift for any child (the sequel even comes with a CD of Donaldson narrating the poem).

My very clever and arty friend Natasha, who came to see the show with us also produced a stunning pair of felted animals. These are apparently rather easy to make with wool. She'll be guest posting some instructions soon so watch this space... 
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
   How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
   But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
             His nose,
             His nose,
   With a ring at the end of his nose.

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
             The moon,
             The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

You can follow Let's All Dance on their website here: The Princess and The Frog will be performed in February, followed by The Magic Word in May. We received tickets to the performance in exchange for a review and the books mentioned featured in a previous post and were kindly provided by Puffin Books. Photographs Courtesy of Let's All Dance.

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