Penny Readings 2015: Northern powerhouses, Astounding Broccoli Boys and Dickensian cheer

Maxine 1 - Caro Rowland
Maxine Peake on stage at the Penny Readings 2015 (credit: @CaroRowland on Twitter)

Last night, St George’s Hall in Liverpool was full to the brim with festive spirit as the Penny Readings 2015 took place. For just over two hours, the glittering Concert Room – which Charles Dickens himself deemed as “the finest room in the world for reading” when he read on the very same stage – saw the sell-out show wow the audience with seasonal literature, music and entertainment, all for the price of just one penny a ticket.

Our star readers came in the form of ‘Northern powerhouses’ Maxine Peake and Shaun Evans, delighting and moving us in equal measure with their choice of readings. We were treated to a double helping of D.H. Lawrence with extracts from Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow, perfectly brought to life by Maxine’s dulcet tones, with her take on the Morel’s family Christmas awaiting the arrival of eldest son William back from London rightly called ‘captivating‘ by one of our many audience members – a feeling that was surely shared by the whole room. The Dickensian spirit of the Penny Readings was in full effect with Shaun’s piece from David Copperfield, which saw the title character in particularly high spirits, and his characterful reading of the ‘devilish good fellow’ brought frequent gales of laughter from the crowd. Maxine ended with a poignant Christmas piece – The Oxen by Thomas Hardy – although arguably her most challenging role of the evening came when she was called upon to draw the famous Reader Raffle, which had some incredible prizes on offer including a Kiehl’s gift-set, tickets to The Alice Experience and The Beatles Story, hampers from Asda and LEAF, Independent Liverpool cards and a signed authenticated picture of Liverpool FC midfielder Phillipe Coutinho!

Shaun Evans reading from Dickens (credit: @Sbarber5bp on Twitter)
Shaun Evans reading from Dickens (credit: @Sbarber5bp on Twitter)

Another memorable performance came from the ever-entertaining Frank Cottrell Boyce, who read from his latest hit novel The Astounding Broccoli Boy after regaling us with tales from his schooldays and in particular the case of a nun who may or may not have been concealing a Dalek status…Frank also pleased the crowds by signing copies of the book in the foyer afterwards. Angie MacMillan treated us to an exclusive preview of the latest in the A Little, Aloud series – A Little, Aloud With Love, due to be published in early 2016, and the Christmas cheer was brought back into proceedings with special guests Adele, Madison and Josh from Norman Pannell Primary School telling us the story of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. As ever, Phil Davis invoked the festive spirit with the traditional reading from A Christmas Carol, bringing the scene from the Cratchits’ dinner table to life.

Musical interludes were brought courtesy of The Ukulele Uff & Lonesome Dave Trio with their set of singalong classics including the love song for insects Never Swat A Fly and Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies, the super-talented piano player – and composer! – Evie Gill-Hannan, and the AINE Gospel Choir, finalists from the BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year 2014, who led the whole cast and crowd in a soulful rendition of Lean On Me to bring this year’s proceedings to a rousing close.

It was a real compliment for our supporters Publiship to call this year’s show the ‘Best Penny Readings ever’ and the #PennyReadings hashtag on Twitter was full of similar highlights from those in attendance:

Absolutely loved our first at . Thanks for organising a great evening! 🙂

all sounding/looking beautiful for the magical

Loved listening to made me laugh and nearly cry at end of reading…

Thanks and for a fab night.

Shaun Evans and Maxine Peake backstage with staff from Whitefield Primary School
Shaun Evans and Maxine Peake backstage with staff from Whitefield Primary School

With so much festivity and goodwill in abundance, we like to think that Dickens would be proud.

All that is left to say is a massive thank you to all of our performers, supporters, stall holders including News From Nowhere, Royden Revolve Rotary Club and The Reader Cafe, staff members and everyone in attendance for making the Penny Readings 2015 so memorable. Here’s to next year! In the meantime, to borrow a phrase or two from Bob Cratchit:

“A merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

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