CD Countdown 6: Playing the Fool
“A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.”
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Oh hello there. My name is Kenny and I am the narrator for Revolting Rhymes and Marvellous Music.
I am not like the others…
I do not play an instrument.
I cannot read music.
I couldn’t tell my assai’s from my allegros.
But one thing I can play is…the fool.
I am a trained actor and my specialism is in clowning and physical theatre. ‘That ain’t no good for an audio recording’ I hear you shout! Aha, you got me. Caught me right out you little sneakies. Bravo… Luckily though, I am also alright at speaking!!
But, I tell you what, to be able to play the fool is an extraordinarily handy tool when approaching the brilliant and barmy text of Roald Dahl. As a trained clown I felt I was already off on the right foot for how Dahl may have wanted these stories performed. When speaking about writing for children, Dahl has always insisted that it has ‘got to be funny’ (you can hear him speak about writing here)! A clown’s job is to make people laugh. A clown’s job is to be silly and to live in the world of unreason. Roald Dahl’s work is full of nonsense, incredible worlds and magical realities. Did you know that he invented over 500 new words?
Here is Sir Ian McKellen reading Roald Dahl’s letters to a young girl, where he uses some of these fantastic words.
Getting a handle on Roald Dahl’s texts was the easy bit. Reading Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beast’s and Revolting Rhymes is a gift for an actor – you don’t have to do much apart from read in order for it to be highly entertaining. Of course, I had a lot of fun creating ridiculous voices for some of his most gruesome of characters (I believe the Tummy Beast is a firm favourite amongst the ensemble) and presenting his characters in the flesh has been utterly delightful. Grandma Hood is one that literally jumps off the page and screams out to be embodied. This is aided by the inventive and compelling music composed by Paul P and Martin B. My job is made easy with such a great storytelling in each component of the piece.
There is so much in there that is dark too, and I was occasionally concerned about how appropriate parts of these stories were for young kids, worried about how it would go down in front of parents and teachers. But of course it was fine. This is the genius of Roald Dahl – the fine line between the macabre and the humorous always so perfectly balanced, and this is due to the silliness and joyful nonsensicalness of it all. A twinkle in the eye, larger than life characters that captivate our imaginations and the way that laughter can take us all safely home.
Working with live musicians in this way was something I had never done before as an actor and was probably the most daunting part of the project at first. I remember the nerves of our very first rehearsal, wondering if I was going to be able to pull it off and not wanting to make a fool of myself. Well, what was I thinking – that is exactly what I was supposed to do.
I was very relieved that the Magnard’s found me funny and totally enthralled at their playing on that first day - the world that my characters existed in was created around me in front of my very ears. In these compositions the words and music cannot possibly live separately from each other, and my performance springs out and comes to life from the support I get from the players around me. It is true storytelling team work.
And each person in the ensemble is every bit as silly and wisely nonsensical as I am. It’s a requirement for this project!!
It has been, and continues to be, a privilege to narrate the words of Roald Dahl. Oh, what an adventure it has been so far. We truly love these stories and this music – and what is truly the most magic of all is to be able to pay that love forward onto the next generation of readers, writers, actors, musicians…
Returning to these texts was like visiting an old friend, like most people I know, I grew up with Roald Dahl’s books and poetry and the words have stuck with me all this time. There is a familiarity, these rhymes became a part of me without me even realising. What is joyful is seeing that familiarity on all the faces of the adults in the audience, those moments of catching them mouthing the words with me, of being transported back to their own childhood.
Because in these days we are told we must be serious.
Adults must be
This isn’t the time
For telling jokes.
Or being silly.
To that I say… PAH!
Roald Dahl understood the liberatory power of silliness and play. Children have it naturally. I truly believe, as adults, we are all missing a great strength by holding back our foolish sides. So, get stuck into some Revolting Rhymes and Marvellous Music on iTunes here and/or Amazon here and discover a little bit of your super silly power.
"...don't worry about the bits you can't understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music."