Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Spectacle of Light at Sudeley Castle near Cheltenham includes light art sculptures throughout the gardens, all round the castle and historic chapel. Selected nights to 30 December.

There are people in Devon and beyond who still think I was roistering drunk that night in the king’s pavilion.

I giggled and staggered, and flirted with men in fierce armour who were set on laying waste all around them in battle the next day. It was 20–something years ago: a Live Action Roleplay weekend; and I was entirely sober but spying for anyone who’d “pay” me.

In fact I was one of those annoying players who stayed in character all weekend, even in the toilet queue at horrible o’clock when everyone else was crawling out of their hangovers. If you’ve met me, this won’t be a surprise.

Flying and handling dragons

The full length, heavy leather cloak I had made all those years ago – after too near a brush with hypothermia one soggy Sunday – now serves as the techno magical DragonProof Cloak for my storytelling persona of Agent Green the planet’s only (living) Dragon Whisperer.

It also splendidly does its original job of keeping out the weather. Add an Indiana Jones-ish hat over a bright headscarf – roll over hijab, I need warm ears! – plus big gloves and hey presto! It’s obviously a dragon wrangler’s perfect kit for flying and handling her toasty charges.

Grandmother of Dragons

When guests emerge starry-eyed from the first three quarters of the trail around this year’s Spectacle of Light at Sudeley Castle, they’re quite ready to encounter a fantasy character.

On opening night yesterday, even groups of adults without children were enchanted by the deep bass roars, the glow and smoke issuing from the Dragon Dungeon. And by the Dragon Whisperer’s spiel about a rescue dragon inhabiting the cellars.

Beware of the Dragon says the sign. I’m not quite sure who my boss means, by the way, as he’s taken to calling me Grandmother of Dragons.

Romantic, magical Spectacle of Light

December notwithstanding, the Spectacle of Light is wonderfully free of festive clichés. Not a plastic Santa in sight. From the long vista across glowing reflections in water to the venerable castle itself, to shimmering patterns unrolling from a perfect little tree, this is art made of light. As magical as the shining energy tree of Avatar. As complex as Miss Haversham. As mischievous as Alice’s mirror world. And packed with extra emotional wallop from luscious music; a different mood for each ‘set’. It’s a glorious treat for children as well as the most romantic thing I’ve seen in decades. And if you’ve been feeling low these winter nights, I’d say Spectacle of Light will lift you.

Spectacle of Light runs on selected evenings with timed entries 5pm–7.30pm
Friday 8 – Sunday 10 December
Friday 15 – Saturday 23 December
Wednesday 27 – Saturday 30 December
Please note Dragon Whisperer is on missions elsewhere 18 and 30 December 

“Tickets For Tonight” are available only in person on the day after 4pm at Sudeley Castle Visitor Centre on site

Save 10% Book in advance here

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This was the third successive year I entertained audiences at a cosy boutique hotel near Witney, in Oxfordshire. Think squashy armchairs and a splendid log fire.

Their Christmas tree looks like a gift from Norway* and is pleasingly decorated with more enthusiasm than elegance. Dogs are welcome: they sprawl like well groomed furry cushions close to their humans, a little anxious in strange surroundings, flinching occasionally at the sound of my voice.

On Christmas Eve I told ScaryTales to so many guests that extra chairs had to be brought, which always makes my inner diva punch the air in triumph. The dear listeners winced and gasped in all the right places, and nobody snored. (That happened on Boxing Day afternoon.)

Who do you please?

Unlike other gigs, at a hotel Christmas session you never know what kind of audience you’ll face. Oh, officially it’s families at afternoon tea time and adults after dinner. But it’s usually the case that any performance – five over three days – must please mostly adults while still being suitable for one or two children, or teenagers.

One set this Christmas had to be tempered for an eight-ish-year-old girl whose parents sensibly let me know before starting that she’s terrified of scary stories. She was tearful even coming in to sit down! Luckily I had my sparkly grey furred Winterbeast in my bag, so he was set beside the little girl with firm instructions to protect her through the storytelling.

I’d chosen a tale with plenty of magic and delight but also a major section of spooky forest and dodgy old ladies… I was hyper conscious of adding or modifying phrases to turn the scary down. A fascinating performance challenge. I like to think the girl began to understand what stories show so well: that frightening situations can be handled.

Competing with a tree…

Another challenge at this type of gig is the physical layout of the room. Any large room has a ‘sweet spot’ where your voice naturally bounces off the ceiling and down to the far end … but not with different ceiling heights created by a minstrel’s gallery. And a hotel lounge full of sofas, armchairs and coffee tables tends to lack a focal point where a speaker can visually command attention.

I struggled to compete with the giant twinkly tree. It was also difficult to position myself to talk towards the good ears of several senior guests with impaired hearing, or even to stand where they could see my face (a lot of people, deaf or not, lipread to some extent when listening to a live speaker). Inevitably there was the hearing aid that squealed. It’s also distracting when hotel staff, despite their manager’s instructions, start clearing the room for the evening cocktail party while you’re halfway through your set!

But stories told live are powerful. And an audience that wants to listen cannot be deterred. “Those stories made my Christmas,” confided one very frail older lady.

Out in the world, war and flood and earthquake and avoidable poverty and loneliness and preventable pollution continued without mercy. And death claimed yet more people whose talents we treasured. In the face of all that, for a few hours, in the comfortable house by the river in the garden, we flew on the magic of words.

* Every year the city of Oslo in Norway sends a huge Christmas tree to London, to stand in Trafalgar Square sparkling with lights, in thanks for help from Britain during World War 2.

NOTES:
♦  Mistletoe Storyteller costume by the amazing AJ at Dragons & Unicorns, based on a design idea by me
♦  Booking now for World Book Day / Book Week in schools: Thursday 2 March 2017. Please contact me soon to avoid disappointment! Year 3 to Sixth Form. Dragon Days as Agent Green the world’s only living Dragon Whisperer. Legends of Britain and beyond as Nightshade, Un-Wisewoman of the Woods.

www.midnightstorytellers.co.uk

Snow morning

“We get proper winters up here!”

Perhaps it’s cheating. Perhaps it’s turning into a personal tradition. I happen to like the piece I wrote for ‘A Cotswold Christmas’ [Tempus Publishing Ltd, Stroud, Gloucestershire UK] so I’m sending it out again. (This year I have a few readers, too!) For years I’ve lacked confidence about writing. Being asked to contribute to an anthology was a big boost! And it was a pleasure to write about the magical effect of storytelling in the festive season: a magic not made by me – I just say the words that open the door to a world of quiet and kindness. Too few people reach that world: but everyone knows what it looks like.

The anthology is a delicious mix of historical anecdote, literary tradition and whimsy. Plus grand old photos including the River Severn frozen jagged ice bank to bank in 1940.

By kind permission of editor and Cotswold historian June Lewis-Jones, here’s The Storyteller’s Tale:

‘Every Christmas I sense relief rising off my audiences like steam from a plum pudding. While you listen to a story, whining children and demanding mothers and the whole miserable debt-inducing race to shop, cook and shop again for the Big Day do not exist.

‘In the world of story, Christmas snow lies deep and crisp and even. Wolves howl in the approved manner, forests are satisfyingly mysterious. Ugly women become beautiful by the power of love and kindness (a magic that works in any world). A beggar discovers the meaning of generosity. And it doesn’t matter how fake my Babushka accent is, people laugh when she scolds the Magi and hearts melt when she offers the newborn Prince of Peace all the trinkets she’d gathered for the children she never had.

A spontaneous art form

‘Traditional stories carry the identity of nations, the memories of communities, in myths, legends, folktales. This worldwide heritage contains powerful and moving reminders about what it means to be fully human. Morals and messages underlie every tale. Thoughtless choices have results you can’t imagine, or control. Beware what you wish for – you might get it! At the same time, every listener interprets the tale in their own way.

‘Storytelling is a spontaneous art form. No scripts, no reading out of a book. The storyteller is like a jazz musician – following a theme; drawing on artistry, tradition and adrenalin to make magic.

‘Christmas audiences can be merry, sour or stodged to the ears with festive fare. I have to assess quickly if the telling needs to be crisp and light, rich and romantic, or just over and done with as fast as possible! (…)

‘All year round I go for glamour. At Christmas the serious glitter comes out. Little black dresses, wild child evening wear (pink or peacock!) with swirling duster coats, red and green, and mega-sparkly earrings. Glitter eye shadows, bright lipstick. And, of course, the leopard-spotted or scarlet high heel boots. It’s the middle of winter, it’s England: people are in desperate need of cheering up!

Two golden rules

‘In the Cotswolds, one audience can contain a mind-bogglingly mixed bunch: from fusty professors to shiny IT experts to tweedy young WI ladies. Invariably there are weary, wind-blasted farmers. Two golden rules apply: Do Not Get Between An Audience And Their Food; and, Don’t Start Later Than Nine-Thirty. Cotswold people work hard and drive long distances: come evening, they don’t appreciate being kept waiting for supper. By 9.30pm, they’re sleepy, energy for listening dwindles, and I’ve learned to wrap up by 10.30pm at the latest.

‘I lost my heart to the Cotswolds when I was eight years old. It’s a privilege to live here, and to work at what I love. Doesn’t matter if it’s a cosy country inn or a cruise liner-sized hotel all chintz and no taste. Doesn’t matter if it’s a glittering dinner party or a rickety village hall in some hamlet that’s not even on the map. Faces light up with joy and wonder, the atmosphere swirls with dreaming and laughter. Those winter tales and festive fables hold a power which calls to the true spirit of Christmas in everyone.

‘So, next November and December, I’ll be finding my way in the pitch dark, nursing my poor old car down ancient lanes, in gusts of rain, bouncing through puddles with potholes as deep as Australia. There’ll be skies quivering with stars, the smell of frost, bare branches against the moon. Several nights a week I’ll be coming home to hot chocolate, happy cats and (the secret of comfortable country life) my electric blanket!

‘It is very special to be a storyteller in the Cotswolds at Christmas.’