A gorgeous day this summer where the Wonderful Beast Singers had the pleasure of singing a cycle of songs, written by our friend Richard Chew, to the composer himself. We've known Richard since 2014 when he was commissioned to compose the music for our first community opera, The Six Swans. We were all having such a lovely time we didn't get a recording to share with you, but here's a snap of some smiling faces (from left to right): Rob, Rosie, Richard, Annabel, Sharon and Jonathan.
From our Artistic Director:
As well as celebrating our work over the past 25 years, staging Once Upon a Time at Aldeburgh's Jubilee Hall in November 2022 marked the end of Wonderful Beast’s time as a charitable company, and the start of its new life as a creative hub – a theatrical consultancy for anyone who wants to use it.
Over the years we have amassed a huge library of stories, experience and material that I hope can become a rich resource for schools, arts organisations, individuals, writers, composers, performers, as well as a facility for providing practitioners on request for specific projects. As always, the Beast leads us off on another magical path.
In 1997 I decided to form a theatre company, to dramatise folk and fairy tales, myths and legends. It seemed to me that these stories were not only invaluable for children but for all ages. They’re rooted in timeless moments that eschew age division, when families, friends, children and babes in arms gather together to entertain one another, grow sleepy listening, or stay up all night quarrelling about the ‘right’ version of the tale. As a primary school teacher, I’d seen how the words ‘Once upon a time…’ could captivate children, opening the door to an inner place where they could explore all those powerful emotions evoked by the stories. Seeing Tim Supple’s productions of Grimm fairy tales at the Young Vic clinched it for me. Despite being told I must be mad, I recruited a group of friends, including the poet Adrian Mitchell and actor Roger Lloyd Pack, all passionate about these stories.
Wonderful Beast came to life. Our first play, The Birth of Pleasure (an apt title to herald the 25 years that would follow), based on the Apuleius story of Cupid and Psyche, was produced at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington. Since then, we have never stopped.
The company relocated from London to Aldeburgh in 2005. Whilst staging new plays – many based on East Anglian folk tales – we toured nationally, collaborating with English Touring Opera, introducing Orpheo and The Cunning Little Vixen to thousands of children. We worked with Suffolk schools, residents of care homes and alms houses, created interactive music theatre shows for babies and toddlers, and formed The Wonderful Beast Singers.
Our festival series, Storm of Stories, which ran from 2012-2016, included two community operas and a glorious mixture of amateur and professional talent – East Anglian step dancers and folksingers, local people telling their own stories, and professional international performers.
Our latest production, First the Dance, Then the Feast, based on a Hungarian folk tale, gave children from three local primary schools the opportunity to perform Eastern European songs and dances, working with professional musicians and actors. Families, friends, children, and babies filled the audience, sharing in this joyful culmination of everything for which Wonderful Beast has always stood.
ALYS KIHL, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF WONDERFUL BEAST
Last month we were delighted to stage First the Dance, Then the Feast at Thorington’s beautiful woodland amphitheatre. The project saw 80 Suffolk primary school children and a full professional cast and musicians performing a collaboratively created adaptation of a Hungarian folktale.
Children and artists of many nationalities came together on stage as one company under the banner of Wonderful Beast. The sun shone, the birds and children sang, and throngs of you came to see the show, for which we thank you very much. Receiving such an enthusiastic response from the audience made a huge difference to these children – and our team – all of whom had worked so hard to make this production a reality.
Enormous thanks to our generous funders and sponsors, without whom the project could not have taken place.
Save the Date! Wonderful Beast’s 25th Birthday Celebration
To mark our 25th birthday, we’re putting on a celebratory show on Sunday November 27th, 4.00pm at Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall. It will be a journey through some of the most magical moments of Wonderful Beast’s quarter century and sees some of our longest-standing artists contributing, including loyal patrons Dame Penelope Wilton and Gemma Jones, alongside many more great talents. Please put the date in your diaries and we’ll be in touch as tickets become available – we’d love to see you all.
The Wonderful Beast Arts Hub
Having now had a little time to turn our thoughts back to everyday life, we’re planning some changes for the future of Wonderful Beast.
After two and a half decades of mounting productions, touring nationally, staging our own Storm of Stories festivals, producing community operas, running storytelling and outreach projects for all ages, we have amassed a huge archive of material and experience. So, next year we are shifting our focus and offering Wonderful Beast as a rich and invaluable resource for schools, arts organisations, individuals, writers, composers, and performers, as well as a facility for providing practitioners on request for specific projects.
This transition from charity to sole trader from January 2023 will see Alys Kihl take on the role of consultant and custodian of the archives. To all the Friends of Wonderful Beast, we therefore suggest you cancel your subscriptions after December, and we thank you wholeheartedly for your invaluable loyal support over the years.
We are grateful to Tim and Lucy Rowan-Robinson (Chair of Wonderful Beast’s Board of Trustees), who hosted in their beautiful garden a late September party for Wonderful Beast, with the purpose of extending a huge thank you our loyal funders, friends, supporters, volunteers and fabulous local artists.
It was a joyful occasion for people to meet - some for the first time, others after a long period of non-socialising due to Covid-19 - in a glorious setting and on a balmy evening. Chatter was dappled with bewitching folk music played by the brilliant Zoe Anderton on her magnificent concert harp. Romanian wine (in keeping with the Eastern European theme of our next project) and canapés, provided by our hard-working and multi-talented trustees, went down famously.
'What fun it was last night, and how wonderful to be at a party. Not only that, but one full of like-minded people.
It made me realise how much I’ve missed things like that, seeing people not just at home.
So thank you, all for your generosity, and long live Wonderful Beast!'
- PARTY GUEST
Flares and fairy lights lit the garden as dusk fell and Alys gave her thank you speech, telling everyone of the Beast’s future plans. As the grand finale to the evening, actor Petra Markham read ‘The Hare and the Hedgehog’ from Water de la Mare’s Told Again (Princeton, 2019) with everyone gathered around to listen, in true storytelling tradition.
All photos copyright Sophie Baker 2021. Not to be reproduced without permission.
An invitation from Wonderful Beast and Wardens Trust was enjoyed by participants from our Zoom project, Bubble Wrap, during the last covid Lockdown. This time, we had the pleasure of actually meeting each other in person at Wardens Hall in its wonderful setting on the clifftops of Sizewell beach. House Manager Bev greeted everyone with tea or coffee and the most delicious array of her home-made cakes.
It was a beautiful summer’s day and poet Dean Parkin, actor Hilary Greatorex and WB's Artistic Director Alys Kihl led a workshop in a bosky shaded area, with the gentle sound of the sea below and a slight breeze rustling the leaves over us.
The song Bella Mama was learnt, and poem ‘The Table’ by Turkish writer Edip Cansaver stimulated our creative juices as we all ‘placed’ our own imaginings and wishes on our ‘table’. With Dean’s inimitable coaxing, a group poem emerged that triggered conversation and great pleasure in our achievement though such simple means. Hilary initiated some wonderful improvisations from the group with her drama exercise featuring an orange, its texture and how we would cut it and eat it.
Caroline Way read for the group her poem 'The Tardigrade', written during the online series in response to this seemingly indestructible creature who became a favourite subject during the Zoom project. Richard Williams also read his beautiful poem 'Swift'.
Then it was picnic time. The fun of chatting to each other in person was what we had been missing during lockdowns. However, Zoom was a boon for those who couldn’t have travelled to a specific venue. Looking ahead to the forthcoming dark winter months when everyone prefers to stay at home, we are hoping to bring about Bubble Wrap 2, which will be open to new participants alongside our original Bubble Wrappers, who we will welcome back with delight.
Annie Blaber, loyal and devoted Trustee of Wonderful Beast since its inception in 1997 till 2019
Words from Wonderful Beast's Artistic Director, Alys Kihl
LOCKDOWN TALES was Wonderful Beast’s answer to the first lockdown in March 2020, when it initiated an online series of over 50 stories and poetry recorded by actors, musicians, poets, a dancer for children around the world to enjoy.
BUBBLE WRAP came next in the third Lockdown (Feb/March 2021): a pilot project for the over 65s, in partnership with Wardens Trust. A series of online workshops, Bubble Wrap took place via the magic of Zoom, bringing together participants from across East Anglia.
It was led by four brilliant artists – Dean Parkin (poet), Martina Schwarz (musician), Hilary Greatorex (actor), and Anusha Subramanyam (dancer), under the umbrella of Wonderful Beast. Originally called Connect and Create, the project evolved into Bubble Wrap thanks to Dean's poem of the same title, which got the whole project rolling and broke the ice. That and the folk tale of The Old Woman and the Vinegar Bottle, were the creative starting points for every group.
In this particular time of isolation ‘connecting’ has been the driving force of the project, whether it is linking one art form to another or linking people. It’s been about meeting new people, feeling part of a group, enjoying the diversity of each other’s imagination and talents, tapping into our own creativity and most importantly having fun!
Quotes from participants
Warm feeling today, going back in time, being part of a group instead of being lonely.
It brightened up my week from the plod, plod of Lockdown. -- Jenifer Kirby
It made me realise how much I’ve been missing fun creative activities. -- Janet Koralambe
It was a great privilege to work with real and talented artists. -- Christine Laschet
Words from the artists:
It was wonderful to see locked-down minds opening up and connecting with each other, and a joy to see so many smiles beaming back.
-- Hilary Greatorex
I’ve run several projects on Zoom over the last year but this did things differently and more ambitiously - connecting a wide-range of people across the county, and bringing people who are isolated, lonely or simply cheesed-off into the Wonderful Beast family and friends!
-- Dean Parkin
We are currently working on creating an online gallery showing all the wonderful creative work – wishes, poems, stories, recordings - that emerged inspired by the sessions.
Selected recorded material from all the sessions will be edited to create a short documentary of the whole project.
Alys Kihl, Founder and Artistic Director of Wonderful Beast.