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sea monkeys at the old vic

When Emily Drabble from BookTrust got in touch to ask if I'd like to read at The Old Vic for their Christmas Storytelling event with Celia Imrie, Michael Rosen and Noma Dumezweni, I was flabbergasted. These are all proper ACTORS and I'm... well... an illustrator. So I arrived this morning with a bit of trepidation.



For so many actors, performing at the Old Vic is one of the ultimate goals of their career, treading the same boards as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Eileen Atkins... so I was well aware of the weight of its tradition. I didn't want to let them down! I'm used to showing lots of pictures when I give a talk, so knowing that the event would be all about the words was another interesting challenge. Philip Reeve and I decided the best story to read would be Sea Monkey Christmas, one we came up with for our blogs a few years ago. The story's not actually in a book, and I didn't want to stand there reading from a sheath of printer paper, so I went to the market, bought an old photo album, and painted it up like this. I thought, at least this way people will know what a Sea Monkey looks like. (You can read the whole Sea Monkey Christmas story on my website right here!)



We had an hour and a half to get ready for the show, and it was thrilling getting to walk around on the beautiful stage, with lots of gorgeous lanterns hanging down for the season's play, A Christmas Carol. Here's Michael (whom I know a bit from book events; he always does a great stage show), Noma (who plays Hermione Granger in the London and NYC plays of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), Celia (whom I've seen in loads of films including Bridget Jones's Diary and Calendar Girls), and Director Annabel Bolton.




Here's the Sea Monkey, excited it's about to get its big-time stage debut. When the performance started, and my turn came to go out on the stage, one of the big differences I noticed to doing school and festival events was that I couldn't really see anyone; it was more like performing to a big wall of bright light. I kind of missed being able to connect with individual people in the audience, I think I usually subconsciously latch on to a few people during each talk and come to feel rather fond of them by the end.



But it was still a lot of fun; I tried to make it as interactive as possible, and the audience were terrific about helping me with the Sea Monkey Christmas choir (which basically involves a whole lot of EEP-ing).

christmas story
Illustration from the original Sea Monkey Christmas

While the other three read from their stories - Bah, Humbug! from Michael, Just William from Celia and The Gruffalo's Child from Noma - I took great interest in inspecting props backstage. Look how organised these are! This is such a great way of making sure no pieces go missing between performances, and knowing exactly where to find them.



I really ought to do this with my hats. (I need a big backstage storeroom, though.)



Coats from A Christmas Carol, all carefully labelled:



Michael wasn't able to stick around because he was going to an Arsenal football match, but right at the end, I got to go back out on stage with Noma and Celia, hold hands and take three big dramatic bows in the spotlight. Then the snow machine came on, and we walked down the stage catwalk through the winter wonderland, waving like stars. I think if I'd had a bucket list of things I'd like to do in my life, this would have been one of them if I'd ever thought there'd be an actual chance of it happening. Thank you so much to everyone who came along (including author Mo O'Hara and singer Caroline Smith) and made it a really special day!



Big thanks, too, to Jessica Norman and Emily Lunnon from the Old Vic, and everyone on the team who made things go so smoothly. And to this great duo from Muswell Hill Children's Bookshop who provided lots of books so people could take home their own stories to read.



What a day! The adrenaline rush stuck with me for hours and I excitedly rang up Philip Reeve (who's been acting in a panto in Devon) to give him all the news about how our story had gone down. Now I'm flopped on my sofa, still thinking, 'OH MY GOODNESS'.

If you'd like to learn how to draw your own Sea Monkey, here's a tutorial that BookTrust filmed me doing. (It's the first in a series of four Sea Monkey comic videos on their website.)



Happy Christmas, everyone!


Illustration from the original Sea Monkey Christmas

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Sarah McIntyre

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