Savour a magical retelling of the Christmas story, seen through the eyes of a young shepherd boy, in this musical adaptation of On Angel Wings, the beautifully poignant and atmospheric tale from well-loved children’s author, Michael Morpurgo.
It’s a well known story. A humble stable, a holy couple, a newborn baby in a manger and a bright star shining brilliantly above. Most are also familiar with the scenario of the shepherds watching their flocks at night – and some may even be inclined to burst into the opening lines of the traditional carol – when an angel appears and invites them to visit the newborn baby in Bethlehem.
This is the basic premise of Morpurgo’s retelling, but with a twist. The story focuses on the disgruntled young shepherd boy who is left behind to mind the flock while the rest of the shepherds follow the star. But then the young boy is also invited by the archangel Gabriel to visit with a very special mode of transport – to travel On Angel Wings – and becomes the very first visitor to the newborn Christ child.
Master storyteller Morpurgo is brilliantly adroit at bringing a human side to his tales, never glossing over real or raw emotions. Children will identify with the shepherd boy feeling miffed at being left behind, then rejoice in his wonder at being chosen for such a special privilege.
The story is told in flashback, with the shepherd boy, now a grandfather, telling the story to his grandchildren, which cleverly brings a familiar family dynamics to the story. There is a certain amount of disbelief from the children as they listen to their grandfather, and yet they are also enchanted by his wondrous tale and love to hear their grandfather tell it. Like many family traditions – and we know how children love routine and familiarity – it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.
The children have a wonderful sense of innocence, which is tempered by their playful banter; they are on that precarious cusp of wanting to believe, but also not wanting to be seen as gullible or naive. They tell themselves the story is “too improbable, too fantastical.” And yet, could it really have happened this way and wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was true…
For this one-night only performance, the audience will be treated to a reading of On Angel Wings by Michael Morpurgo, with award-winning actress Juliet Stevenson (of Truly, Madly, Deeply fame) providing the voice of the shepherds and the Angel Gabriel. And don’t expect stuffy, formal language from Gabriel: he speaks with surprising modernity as he invites the young lad to join him on a jaunt to Bethlehem and promises ‘We could be there and back, lickety split, and no one would know.’
To set a suitably festive mood, the story will have a beautiful musical accompaniment of traditional carols by a cappella singing group Voices at the Door, with proceeds going to Michael Morpurgo’s Farms for City Children charity.
Why go? For an hour of delightful entertainment in the beautiful surroundings of St Luke’s Church in Chelsea – and a welcome moment of calmness and serenity amid all the festive hustle and bustle.
Who is it best for? Anyone aged 7+ who enjoys the Nativity story, and beautiful renditions of traditional carols.
Top Tip Even if you can’t make it in person, invest in a copy of On Angel Wings to enjoy Michael Morpurgo’s lyrical prose and evocative illustrations by Quentin Blake – it’s the perfect pre-Christmas read.
Our favourite bit It’s a rare treat to hear author Michael Morpurgo reading his own words. Oh, and Juliet Stevenson isn’t half bad, either.
Don’t go If you’ve lost that childlike wide-eyed wonder. Though, on second thoughts, this could be exactly what you need to restore it!
While you’re there Walk down the King’s Road to admire the festive window displays and see the Christmas lights at Duke of York Square. Book in advance to visit Santa’s Grotto at the Square and have a snapshot taken with the jolly man in red. The Christmas Grotto will be open Tuesday to Sunday up until December 23 2014.
Did you know? The carol While Shepherds Watched dates back to 1703, and was written by Nahm Tate, the Poet Laureate in the reign of Queen Anne, and Nicholas Brady. Coincidently, Michael Morpurgo is also the former Children’s Laureate. The familiar melody for the traditional carol was taken from Siroe, an opera by George Frederick Handel. It’s also often parodied with the cheeky alternative ‘While shepherds washed their socks by night.’
Author notes Michael Morpurgo is, in his own words, “oldish, married with three children, and a grandfather six times over.” Born in 1943, he attended schools in London, Sussex and Canterbury before attending London University to study English and French, followed by a step into the teaching profession and a job in a primary school in Kent. It was there that he discovered what he wanted to become a writer. One of the UK’s best-loved authors and storytellers, Michael was appointed Children’s Laureate in May 2003 and awarded an OBE for services to Literature in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2007. He has written well over one hundred books, including Kensuke’s Kingdom, Private Peaceful and War Horse. War Horse was adapted for the stage by the National Theatre, winning rave reviews and numerous awards including five Tony Awards in the US. The film version of War Hose by Steven Spielberg was released in 2012.
Farms for City Children Clare and Michael Morpurgo founded the charity Farms for City Children in 1976 at Nethercott Farm in Devon. The charity now operates on three working farms where groups of schoolchildren and teachers from cities and towns nationwide stay for a week at a time, getting involved in all aspects of farm and country life.