The Reader’s Penny Readings, inspired by Charles Dickens’ journeys around the country sharing his work, was a night our literary friend would have been proud of.
There’s no hiding from it anymore, Christmas is coming. But don’t panic, we’ve got bookish gifts all wrapped up!
The countdown to Christmas is getting less and less with each passing hour, and hopefully by now you’ll be finding the chance to unwind and sit back, looking at the glimmer of the lights upon the Christmas tree. If you still need to get the last bits done, then here’s a poem to get you through the last of the preparations with festive cheer in your heart from Louisa May Alcott – perhaps Little Women is one of the classic novels you’ll be reading over the holiday period?
A Song for a Christmas Tree
Cold and wintry is the sky,
Bitter winds go whistling by,
Orchard boughs are bare and dry,
Yet here stands a faithful tree.
Household fairies kind and dear,
With loving magic none need fear,
Bade it rise and blossom here,
Little friends, for you and me.
Come and gather as they fall,
Shining gifts for great and small;
Santa Claus remembers all
When he comes with goodies piled.
Corn and candy, apples red,
Sugar horses, gingerbread,
Babies who are never fed,
Are handing here for every child.
Shake the boughs and down they come,
Better fruit than peach or plum,
‘T is our little harvest home;
For though frosts the flowers kill,
Though birds depart and squirrels sleep,
Though snows may gather cold and deep,
Little folks their sunshine keep,
And mother-love makes summer still.
Gathered in a smiling ring,
Lightly dance and gayly sing,
Still at heart remembering
The sweet story all should know,
Of the little Child whose birth
Has made this day throughout the earth
A festival for childish mirth,
Since the first Christmas long ago.
Louisa May Alcott
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!
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:
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!”
The Penny Readings 2015 is just under two weeks away and we’re excited to announce our headline act for this year’s show.
Actress Maxine Peake will take to the stage at St George’s Hall, Liverpool on Sunday 13th December to join our annual festive extravaganza. Familiar from television and film roles in Dinnerladies, Shameless, Silk, The Village and The Theory of Everything, Maxine recently played the title character in a radical re-imagining of Hamlet at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, making her the first female Hamlet on a major stage for 35 years.
In The Reader 55, she was interviewed by Philip Davis about her propensity to take on challenging roles, as well as making the connection between acting and screenwriting:
“It is not about being confident. I don’t go ‘I am a good actor’. I want to take bigger risks and enjoy it more […] Now the way I try to think about everything is: Why not?“
Maxine will appear at the Penny Readings alongside Liverpool-born actor Shaun Evans, star of Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour, Whitechapel and BBC Two’s recent The Scandalous Lady W.
We’re also delighted to have Publiship supporting the Penny Readings 2015.
This year’s Penny Readings sold out in a record 90 minutes, with anticipation high for another seasonal celebration of reading, music and entertainment. Dickens will make his regular appearance in the form of the festive classic A Christmas Carol, and we can promise many more treats in store to start Christmas in true Reader style.
The show will start at 6.30pm on Sunday 13th December in the Concert Room. Doors will open to the foyer at 5.30pm, where stalls and refreshments will be available.
Shared reading group members and The Reader volunteers have been notified of their ticket allocation and will receive their priority reserved tickets from their group leader and volunteer coordinator within the next week. Public tickets for the Penny Readings 2015 are sold out.
Last week we announced the date for this year’s Penny Readings, and now we can reveal more information on how you can get tickets to this year’s festive extravaganza of reading, music and entertainment.
First, a little reminder of the fundamentals:
Where? St George’s Hall (Concert Room), Liverpool
When? Sunday 13th December, 6.30-8.30pm (entrance to the foyer from 5.30pm onwards, with stalls and refreshments)
How much? Tickets are free – just bring your penny on the night!
Shared reading group members and The Reader volunteers will be assigned priority ticket reservation from now until 5pm on Friday 13th November. A maximum of 2 tickets per group member/volunteer can be reserved, although due to possible high demand and a limited number of tickets available there is no guarantee that all requests will be fulfilled.
Group members and volunteers will be able to request tickets from their group leader or volunteer contact and must include the following details: first name and surname, name of group and group leader (applicable to group members) and contact details (telephone number and/or email address).
Ticket allocation for group members and volunteers will be confirmed during the week commencing Monday 23rd November.
Tickets will be available to the general public from 10am on Tuesday 17th November, and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis via the online booking link at http://pennyreadings2015.eventbrite.co.uk/ and by calling 0151 729 2220. There will be a maximum of 2 tickets per order.
Please be aware, there are no afternoon Ha’penny Readings taking place this year. Children and young people can attend the Penny Readings with an ordered ticket.
We’ll be keeping you updated with more Penny Readings news in the run-up to the big night – in the meantime, follow the #PennyReadings hashtag on Twitter for all the latest…
It’s the biggest event of the year, and we can announce that the Penny Readings is returning to start the Christmas season in true Readerly fashion. The all-important date for your diaries can be found below…
On Sunday 13th December, we’ll be filling the beautiful Concert Room in St George’s Hall with audience members ready for an evening of festive readings, music and entertainment galore. Now in its twelfth year, we’re looking forward to another seasonal extravaganza harking back to the days of Dickens – all for the price of one penny.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more details on our Penny Readings line-up, and the important information on how you can get your tickets.
This afternoon sees our staff Christmas party at Head Office in Calderstones Mansion House, but we’ve already been getting into the festive mood by celebrating with our Readers and volunteers in Liverpool, London and Wirral over the last few weeks. We can safely say that a very merry time was had by all at each of the parties, combining two quintessentially Readerly pastimes – reading and food – in copious amounts, and we’d like to say a big thank you to everyone involved in arranging and who came along to our Christmas celebrations around the country.
Below are a few pictures from our Christmas party in Wirral, which took place at Birkenhead Central Library last week.
Of course the festive season is the perfect time for catching up on reading, and our Readers may be interested to know about a special city-wide reading project that is happening over Christmas. City of Readers and BBC Radio Merseyside are reading Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, and on Friday 16th January at 1pm the book will be discussed on a live phone-in segment on BBC Radio Merseyside. If you’ve ever wanted to appear on the radio and share your views about a great piece of literature to a regional audience, now’s your chance! All you need to do is read the book over the Christmas period – copies are available in libraries across Liverpool – and tune in on 16th January to enjoy a great read together with the rest of the city.
To find out more about the City of Readers aim to get Liverpool reading for pleasure, visit their website: http://cityofreaders.org/
As the festive season approaches even closer, as well as the shortest day of the year, we’re keeping things seasonal with this week’s Featured Poem from Robert Louis Stevenson. We’ve already enjoyed tons of Christmassy fun with the Santa’s Grotto, Merry Music and Christmas Craft Fair at Calderstones Mansion House, and with the promise of lots more cheer to come with the Ha’Penny Readings and Penny Readings this weekend, this poem should work wonders to keep you in the seasonal spirit.
Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.
Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.
Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.
When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.
Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.
Robert Louis Stevenson
As December is upon us it seems fitting for this week’s featured poem to have a festive flavour. With Christmas Day hurtling towards us at lightning bolt speed, the following rhyme from Henry Van Dyke may inspire those who are yet to assemble their Christmas tree and adorn its branches to do so. This fir-tree soon discovers that decoration choice is of utmost importance.
The Foolish Fir-Tree
A LITTLE fir grew in the midst of the wood
Contented and happy, as young trees should.
His body was straight and his boughs were clean;
And summer and winter the bountiful sheen
Of his needles bedecked him, from top to root,
In a beautiful, all-the-year, evergreen suit.
But a trouble came into his heart one day,
When he saw that the other trees were gay
In the wonderful raiment that summer weaves
Of manifold shapes and kinds of leaves:
He looked at his needles so stiff and small,
And thought that his dress was the poorest of all.
Then jealousy clouded the little tree’s mind,
And he said to himself, “It was not very kind
“To give such an ugly old dress to a tree!
“If the fays of the forest would only ask me,
“I’d tell them how I should like to be dressed,—
“In a garment of gold, to bedazzle the rest!”
So he fell asleep, but his dreams were bad.
When he woke in the morning, his heart was glad;
For every leaf that his boughs could hold
Was made of the brightest beaten gold.
I tell you, children, the tree was proud;
He was something above the common crowd;
And he tinkled his leaves, as if he would say
To a pedlar who happened to pass that way,
“Just look at me! don’t you think I am fine?
“And wouldn’t you like such a dress as mine?”
“Oh, yes!” said the man, “and I really guess
I must fill my pack with your beautiful dress.”
So he picked the golden leaves with care,
And left the little tree shivering there.
“Oh, why did I wish for golden leaves?”
The fir-tree said, “I forgot that thieves
“Would be sure to rob me in passing by.
“If the fairies would give me another try,
“I’d wish for something that cost much less,
“And be satisfied with glass for my dress!”
Then he fell asleep; and, just as before,
The fairies granted his wish once more.
When the night was gone, and the sun rose clear,
The tree was a crystal chandelier;
And it seemed, as he stood in the morning light,
That his branches were covered with jewels bright.
“Aha!” said the tree. “This is something great!”
And he held himself up, very proud and straight;
But a rude young wind through the forest dashed,
In a reckless temper, and quickly smashed
The delicate leaves. With a clashing sound
They broke into pieces and fell on the ground,
Like a silvery, shimmering shower of hail,
And the tree stood naked and bare to the gale.
Then his heart was sad; and he cried, “Alas
“For my beautiful leaves of shining glass!
“Perhaps I have made another mistake
“In choosing a dress so easy to break.
“If the fairies only would hear me again
“I’d ask them for something both pretty and plain:
“It wouldn’t cost much to grant my request,—
“In leaves of green lettuce I’d like to be dressed!”
By this time the fairies were laughing, I know;
But they gave him his wish in a second; and so
With leaves of green lettuce, all tender and sweet,
The tree was arrayed, from his head to his feet.
“I knew it!” he cried, “I was sure I could find
“The sort of a suit that would be to my mind.
“There’s none of the trees has a prettier dress,
“And none as attractive as I am, I guess.”
But a goat, who was taking an afternoon walk,
By chance overheard the fir-tree’s talk.
So he came up close for a nearer view;—
“My salad!” he bleated, “I think so too!
“You’re the most attractive kind of a tree,
“And I want your leaves for my five-o’clock tea.”
So he ate them all without saying grace,
And walked away with a grin on his face;
While the little tree stood in the twilight dim,
With never a leaf on a single limb.
Then he sighed and groaned; but his voice was weak—
He was so ashamed that he could not speak.
He knew at last that he had been a fool,
To think of breaking the forest rule,
And choosing a dress himself to please,
Because he envied the other trees.
But it couldn’t be helped, it was now too late,
He must make up his mind to a leafless fate!
So he let himself sink in a slumber deep,
But he moaned and he tossed in his troubled sleep,
Till the morning touched him with joyful beam,
And he woke to find it was all a dream.
For there in his evergreen dress he stood,
A pointed fir in the midst of the wood!
His branches were sweet with the balsam smell,
His needles were green when the white snow fell.
And always contented and happy was he,—
The very best kind of a Christmas tree.
Henry Van Dyke