Cautionary Tales 2015

In 2015 we returned to Hilaire Belloc’s deliciously dark morality stories for children. There’s something about the irreverent playfulness, rhyming couplets and grisly death sequences that draws children in.

In order to keep this production separate from our previous version, we tackled some different tales from the collection and even devised our own one!

Cast: Tom Hazelden, Jake Mawson, Abi Quaintance, Katie Gale,  Lydia Schofield, Sebastian Rocca, Lauren Hopes, Gabriel Foley, Robyn Luke,  Rosie Oliver, Katherine Tweed, John Creed, Toby Davies, Imo Hayes, Robyn McManus, Alfie Dickens, Adam Quinn, Adam Taylor, Megan Irwin, Megan Gallagher, Wiktoria Biernat, Adam Morris, Charlotte Stacey, Lucy Wallis, Clare Woodage.

SGFringe ****

Hilaire Bellocs Cautionary Tales for Children, Designed for the Admonition of Children Between the Ages of Eight and Fourteen Years were published in 1908, delighted me when I first discovered them several decades ago, and have now been brought to sparkling life by the multi-talented members of the Newbury Youth Theatre, who have once again brought a must see show to the Fringe.

The multi-talented cast took an exuberant delight in the many manifestations of naughtiness which had brought each of them in front of the three venerable members of the Ministry of Child Correction. They were admonished to listen to the woeful histories of a number of Bad Children, who suffered appropriate and gruesome fates: among them the tales of Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion, Matilda who told lies and was burned to death, and Sandra Fair, who refused to have her hair cut and encountered a very near relation of Sweeney Todd

We did not simply hear the tale: it was acted out with great gusto and much additional graphic detail (and comment) by a young cast who created riot and mayhem in an extraordinarily well-disciplined and well-rehearsed performance which had the audience in stitches and earned them loud and prolonged applause.

If you are suffering from Fringe overload and terminal boredom, come and let your hair down and release your inner Struwwelpeter!

Newbury Weekly News

Heading for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for an astonishing 18th consecutive year, Newbury Youth Theatre previewed their new show at the Corn Exchange.

Revisiting Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, this young company of 14 to 19-year-olds showed an infectious, energetic and exuberant delight in their newly-devised production. Each year the composition of the young company necessarily changes, so every production has a freshness and an injection of new ideas.

It’s 1892 and barefoot children considered miscreants are being brought before three bewhiskered and top-hatted judges in a Victorian House of Correction (more than shades of the workhouse in Dickens’ Oliver Twist about it). The judges are determined to make them work for their keep and learn from their mistakes. It’s time for austerity and moralising: George Osborne would surely approve.

The strength of the production lies in the imagination of the young cast, which ignites the imagination of their audience. As always, this year’s company, under artistic director Robin Strapp and directors Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones, played to the Youth Theatre’s strengths: open access, no auditions, just a core belief in enabling youthful creativity to flourish. The result is strong, supportive ensemble work, inspired comedic elements, all performed with verve, physicality and inventive movement and groupings. Watching the talent of this young company, and their joy in their work, does the heart good.

The ‘black box’ set with few, but telling, multi-functional props, was echoed by costuming; boys in black suits, girls in black dresses with white pinafores, all with chalk-white faces. Specially-written music was used sparingly but meaningfully (the sad strains of the accordion as the audience entered said all that was needed about the reality of Victorian poverty), with new songs written by the cast for the production.

So the stories unfold. Among them, Jim ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion; brilliantly evoked animals here and a less than zealous nurse. Clearly this was not the first such casualty the zoo had suffered. Matilda’s lies result in her being burnt to death; who was going to believe her when she said her house was on fire? The fire brigade were hardly efficient, but we loved their song and the pastiche of a Victorian melodrama. At least her aunt missed her. Henry King chewed string till it knotted his insides and he expired. Rebecca, a banker’s daughter, ‘an aggravating child’, was always slamming doors; she was felled by a toppled bust of Beethoven. And two new stories: Sandra Fair wouldn’t cut her hair, but did occasion an enjoyable ukulele and guitar ‘spoken song’, Don’t Fear the Barber. Christian Manners refused to sit at table and ate no vegetables; his bones grew weak and he turned to ashes. Set against these ‘urchins’ was shining light Charles Augustus Fortescue, who by ‘simply doing right’ gained a huge fortune. What a prig…

Lessons were learned, with the final witty song, We Have Been Corrected, telling us that ‘it’s so much fun being good’. I couldn’t help feeling this was tongue in cheek; the children were so much more fun when they were bad.

LIN WILKINSON

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