Hazel McHaffie

Little Dorrit

Xanadu

Phew! That’s it over for another year.

Thinking up a viable storyline, writing it (11,000 words plus), that’s the easy bit of the annual McHaffie Christmas story/play. Putting it into dramatic effect is a far harder task, and this year involved more hours pouring over the detail than ever before. Several weeks went into hand-drawing scenery representing Victorian streets to cover the walls of the hallway, stairs and landing alone!

With no single theatre stage to work with, no stagehands, furniture had to be moved around in six rooms to create Victorian shops, a banqueting hall and a rambling attic in a mansion house.

But the dim light of rows of lanterns and a liberal helping of ivy, saved the day, successfully muting imperfections sufficiently to achieve the desired atmosphere. (Photos have been lightened for this blog.)

The storyline itself involved three youngsters from vastly different backgrounds learning from each other and the experiences they encountered, how to value and respect difference.

Weird gadgets, special boxes, changes of costume, cryptic messages, all added challenge and laughter to the mix.

The three friends discovered a remarkable doll in the attic of the local mansion house, a doll that took them to a magical place called Xanadu,

and underwent a dramatic transformation when danger threatened.

There, with the help of four colourful characters loosely based on Mr Pickwick,

Rumpelstiltskin,

Little Dorrit,

and Rafiki from The Lion King,

they learned about transforming their own and others’ well-being by their attitudes and approach to life.

The four very different candle-lit shops offered paper/wood; gems and gold;

buttons and ribbons; and chocolates.

The names of the characters and their shops had to be worked out.

Only then were the premises thrown open to the time-travellers, allowing them to create ornaments of varying kinds,

with which they decorated all the trees in the town, bringing sparkle and joy to its dark streets.

I rather think it might take a few weeks for dodgy backs and creaking joints to recover from the contortions they’ve undergone, but it’s well worth all the effort to see – and hear! – the family’s enjoyment.

And this year I had the added delight of my eldest granddaughter helping with the behind-the-scenes production of the event to mark her milestone birthday as an adult.

It only remains for me to wish you all peace, joy and health for 2019. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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A dramatic start to 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x91rBzNKvlc

A friend sent me this – beautiful photography, excellent sentiments – and I thought I’d share it with you in this first post of 2012. It says what I’d like to say so much better than I could say it (spelling mistakes excepted). A wish for world peace, wisdom, courage, happiness; what more could we ask for? And the idea of that spotless tract of snow that will show every mark we make, fairly strengthens the resolve to do better, doesn’t it?

As for me, well, it’s back to work with a vengeance this week. One of my tasks has been preparing a resumé of the dramatic appeal of my books ready for an approach to filmmakers. And because my mind has been running along that track I’ve been acutely conscious of the number of films from books shown on TV over the festive period.

Dickens’ Great Expectations made the biggest splash, of course, with its millions of viewers at prime time.

Now, I confess I studied Great Expectations at school for O-level English, but I’m hanged if I remembered much about it decades later. What I do know, though,  is that seeing this adaptation was a hundred times more enjoyable – and I’m a self-confessed book addict. From the moment when Magwitch emerges from the eerie slime, to the point where Miss Havisham dons her bridal veil and sets fire to her lover’s letters and herself, I was gripped. The only jarring bits for me were the good-looking stars. Surely Miss Havisham was more crumbly and wrinkled than Gillian Anderson made her; and Pip was certainly not as prettily perfect a screen idol as Douglas Booth  – eclipsing Estelle, in fact. But I could easily overlook those anomalies, and concede that they together probably brought in far more viewers than ordinary everyday faces would have done.

Also on offer were repeats of the oldies – Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Dorian Gray, Little Women, Heidi, Mansfield Park, Emma, The Chronicles of Narnia … to name but a few on the main channels.

Now, usually I’m averse to watching a film of a book I’ve read. I like to retain the characters of my imagination unsullied by the interpretations of others. But I’m increasingly coming round to thinking that drama can bring these remote tales of bygone times to life for far more people. Some of whom will then go to the book with a headstart in understanding the rather dreary 19th century prose. Why, just today I saw a shelf full of paperback versions of Great Expectations curiously labelled ‘Vintage Dickens’ – with scratchy black and white covers too, not even a photograph of the TV stars in the Christmas version! So there must be a market for the book now amongst the folk of 2012 who buy ready-made cakes and polyester clothes and giant plasma screen TVs. Besides which, you can download the classics on your Kindle absolutely free of charge.

So, all power to the elbow of those who labour to resurrect the classics for the 21st century, say I. Andrew Davies screenplay of Little Dorrit was for me a masterclass in bringing fusty prose to life. Davies, you’ll remember, was the genius who created a Mr Darcy who cooled his ardour in the pond and emerged with his wet shirt and breeches clinging to his manly form in front of his lady love in Pride and Prejudice. A brilliant screenwriter.

One day I’m hoping to persuade some playwright and film director somewhere to do something similar for me! That’s what’s galvanising me this week. I used to worry about my stories being distorted, but Dickens has been dragged into accessibility and modern times by clever adaptation, so why not me?

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