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!”

Maxine Peake headlines Penny Readings 2015

The Penny Readings 2015 is just under two weeks away and we’re excited to announce our headline act for this year’s show.

Maxine Peake
Maxine Peake, starring at the Penny Readings 2015

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?

Shaun Evans
Shaun Evans

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.

Issue 55 of The Reader is now available to purchase

It’s the perfect time to curl up with this brand new issue of The Reader as those cold, dark evenings draw in. In issue 55 which is packed with literary goodness, our editor Phil Davis talks to actress Maxine Peake about risk taking and writing and you will find a fascinating essay from the wonderful Howard Jacobson on Jane Austen. We hope you will also enjoy the excellent selection of new and old literature in this issue including new fiction from llana Baram and a particularly fine collection of poetry from Anna Woodford, Tony Cosier, David Constantine and Paul Connolly.

Please note we are currently having some technical issues with our website, so to order your copy, or subscribe to The Reader please email magazine@thereader.org.uk

We will inform you on here when the website is fixed.

Have a lovely weekend all.