All about how the Moomins teach us humans how to do Christmas: by giving away your best things, tearing up your to-do lists, and knowing that “with friends you can reply on, we can fix everything you see”
This year I have been working with Amelia Pimlott and Hannah Marshall of the Ding Foundation, writing an adaptation of Tove Janson's The Fir Tree (a tale from Moominvalley.) The show is directed by Steve Tiplady and performed by Jonathan Storey, Ceri Ashcroft and Karina Garnett, with Alicia Britt as swing*. Amelia designed the show and Hannah is the composer.
I knew nothing about the Moomins at the beginning of this process; I’m embarrassed to say. I’ve long been an admirer of the Ding Foundation; they make beautiful magical shows bringing puppets and objects incredibly to life. I’ve also worked with the human dynamo that is Ms Jane Corey at Norden Farm and knew that with her producing, this show was going to be fun.
I quickly did a crash course in the benevolent and wise marshmallow creatures called Moomins, their friends and wider family. I also found out as much as I could about Tove Janssen (an incredible woman- you can find out about her here).
Just like Santa’s elves Amelia, Hannah, Steve and I began work on this in the summer (so hot this year, so weird writing and reading about snow and frozen landscapes in the heat of August!)
Anyway, it has been a delight.
The Fir Tree is a short story in which we meet the Moomins, sensible and habitual hibernators who know nothing about Christmas, as they usually sleep through it. This year they are woken and told to “hurry up as Christmas is coming”, and learn from their harassed friends that Christmas is “awful” and “terrible” and “there is just so much to do”. We meet other characters, the Hemulen and Hemulen Aunt, stressed and teary, dashing about, weighted down by lists and chores. We see the poor Woodies, frozen and vulnerable in the snow.
Despite this daunting prospect, of an entity called Christmas that seems “very hard to please”, the Moomins try to make the best of the situation.
We learn that Christmas is about kindness, friendship, generosity, lovely food, and giving away your most precious possessions.
In our adaptation of the story, we also find out that Christmas trees are best dressed in lemon yellow pants, that most of the world problems can be solved “with faith in possibilities and a nice warm cup of tea” (just look in Moominmamma’s handbag for the answer to world peace, I’d say)
We discover that if you tear up those lists that all of us grown us get lumbered/lumber ourselves with, and sing and dance instead, magic happens…
We are treated to live puppetry, shadow puppetry, beautifully performed songs, slapstick and a magically transforming set, as with the Moomins, we discover what Christmas is really all about.
Today I went to see the show again, and it was brilliant, the performers have really made it their own, which is exactly as it should be. It was great fun hearing kids shouting “pants” and screeching with laughter.
Out of curiosity I asked the creative team what they had learned from the Moomins and this is what they had to say:
Steve Tiplady (director)
“That in 20 pages a bunch of imaginary puffballs could teach us more about empathy, community and hope than 250 years of the Tory party in and out of power (but mainly in). I wish Theresa May would come and take a look- its on her patch after all.”
Ceri Ashcroft (puppeteer and actor)
“ 1. How to count backwards in Swedish, 2. That pancakes are better with jam and 3. That almost everything can be solved with a rummage through Moominmamma’s handbag”
Jonathon Storey (puppeteer and actor)
“I think I have learnt from the Moomins that really it would be preferable if I could hibernate through Christmas. I think they have the right idea, in not having any idea at all.”
Karina Garnett(puppeteer and actor)
“ I have learned to be nicer and kinder and to never get trains from Hastings”
Hannah Marshall (composer)
“ The Moomins have taught me that not knowing something is a great gift of discovery”
Amelia Pimlott (designer)
“What I love about the Moomins is their commitment to dealing with difficulties whether it is a storm, a comet or a huge unknown crisis like Christmas, with humour, camaraderie and a simple faith that somehow things will turn out ok. They always know how to have fun and are kind without being do-gooders. After all they do nick their neighbours tree on the grounds that she probably won't miss it.”
Alicia Britt (swing*)
“I’ve learnt that grown ups don’t know everything, like Moominmamma and Moominpappa don’t know what Christmas is, and we also don’t know everything”
* If you are thinking “what the hell is a “swing”- Alicia basically does everything and is utterly indispensible: understudying all the parts, repairing puppets and props, being a stage manager, everything. I asked her and she said she can also actually swing, from almost anything.
If you knpw you love the Moomins or think you might do- there are still some tickets available - the show runs twice a day until 30th December 2018 and you can book tickets here
Here are what some reviewers have said about our show:
"This is Christmas as pure as the snow-covered Moominvalley before we were all corrupted by Black Friday deals and social media envy"
"The young and the not so young alike will be enchanted by this magical and funny tale which has a wonderfully unselfish message at its heart and features fantastic live puppetry, music and a brilliantly clever set."Wokingham Today
"A treat for the whole family that offers an ideal festive alternative to the pantomime"Families Magazine
"The puppetry especially is of very high standard, bringing the Moomin world to life. The comedy is also exceptionally funny and continuously had the children in fits of laughter."Henley Standard
"Fall under its spell” Slough Express
"The characters are loveable and very funny. I was surrounded by children belly-laughing at the slapstick comedy” Little Ankle Biters
"It had humour, suspense and gorgeous puppets that all the children adored” WycMum Blog
"The Fir Tree is a must watch for all families" Maidenhead Advertiser
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. (in Swedish, of course)