Tea for Toot

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

01/03/2011 - 05/03/2011

BATS Theatre, Wellington

21/05/2010 - 05/06/2010

Inverlochy Art School, Inverlochy Place, Te Aro, Wellington

12/07/2011 - 16/07/2011

Auckland Fringe 2011

Production Details

Local Play Casts New Light On The Dark Side Of Children’s Author
A Wellington theatre group are casting a new light on one of the world’s most beloved children’s authors with their premiere production of Tea for Toot, a black comedy inspired by the life of Enid Blyton and her offspring, both fictional and real.
Tea for Toot depicts an unusual week in the life of Georgia and Emily, the two elderly daughters of a fictional children’s author named Mary Waters. Mary Waters’ oeuvre included two popular and long running series, The Nautical Nine and The Thrifty Three, as well as hundreds of charmingly illustrated books featuring Toot, a mischievous young elf whose trumpet nose makes a distinctive “toot”. Sound familiar?
Toot’s friends comprise a menagerie of recognisable and uncomfortably politically-incorrect forest folk including Mumble Bear (the bear who loves to dance), the dirty and deceitful gypsy chimpanzee family the Codswollops , and Niggles the Golliwog.
Full.stop.theatre say they’re not the first to draw attention to the outdated gender constructions and thinly veiled bigotry of their inspiration. “The ‘Gollies’ were the original villains of the Noddy series,” notes director Ed Watson, “but they were replaced by Sly and Gobbo – a pair of goblins – for the TV adaptation in the 1980s. ” Cherie Jacobson, performer and co-writer of Tea for Toot laments the plight of Anne in the Famous Five series; whom she describes as living a life of “washing up and gentle weeping”.
Reports of a BBC ban on Blyton featured in international newspapers last year. Watson explains that “in short, the BBC thought Blyton’s prolific work was too twee and not literary enough even for children, so it wasn’t worthy of being broadcast!” Performer and co-writer Alex Lodge says, “She must have been doing something right though because more than four decades after her death she still sells a million books every year.” Her works are also the 5th most translated in the world today, behind writers like Shakespeare and Disney Productions.”
Less commonly known is the plight of Blyton’s daughters Gillian and Imogen. Unlike the fictional sisters in Tea for Toot who have grown old together, voluntarily excluded from society, Enid Blyton’s daughters refused to speak to one another as adults. Gillian remained a staunch fan of her mother as a writer and parent, while Imogen wrote in her 1989 autobiography A Childhood at Green Hedges that her mother was “arrogant, insecure, pretentious, very skilled at putting difficult or unpleasant things out of her mind, and without a trace of maternal instinct.”
Often described as the J.K. Rowling of her day, Blyton’s legacy is still a feature of many New Zealander’s childhood, and full.stop.theatre say their show is a subtle blend of hero worship, literary criticism and biting parody with broad appeal for the several generations that have been brought up on Noddy and The Famous Five.

Tea for Toot
21st of May to the 5th of June
at BATS Theatre
book@bats.co.nz – (04) 802 4175

Auckland Fringe 2011

Tea for Toot
at The Basement,
1st ’til the 5th of March;
8.30pm Tuesday to Thursday
5.30pm Friday and Saturday.
Adult $18, Concession $14* Service fee apply

Emily: Alex Lodge
Georgia: Cherie Jacobson
Warren Bentley: Richard Falkner (Wellington), Ricky Dey (Auckland)  

Set Design: Hannah Smith
Lighting Design: Rachel Marlowe
Music and Narration: Tane Upjohn-Beatson
Sound Design: Gareth Hobbs
Stage Manager: Chelsea Adams

Charming and unique

Review by Phoebe Smith 15th Jul 2011

Inspired by the fictional and the real worlds of Enid Blyton and her “drastically different daughters,” Alex Lodge, Cherie Jacobson and Edward Watson’s dark comedy Tea for Toot explores the lives of “batty sisters Georgia and Emily [who] live in the shadow of their famous mother.”  

The show premiered at BATS theatre in 2010 and has been toured and re-worked through Auckland and Hamilton with the latest rendition taking place in Wellington at the Inverlochy Art School. This latest setting helps to evoke the play’s homely living room feel, aided by Hannah Smith’s simple design of a mantle with a large picture of the ever looming children’s writer Mary Waters. A white tent upstage held up by strings pegged with teabags effectively provides both a ‘backstage’ area and also a screen for the show’s shadow puppets – also designed by Smith.  

The staging does however become cramped in the space and much of the action can’t be seen from the back row (of which there are only two). Either altering the staging that requires the actors to sit or lie down or raising the second row of seats would make a significant difference.

Both Alex Lodge and Cherie Jacobson have developed ‘old-lady’ characters that are enjoyable and idiosyncratic. There is enough difference between the two of them to avoid us feeling we are simply seeing caricatures. Lodge’s Emily, with her gaunt face and surprising malevolent comments, is particularly enjoyable. 

Just as the mustiness of their presence is becoming too over-powering, Ricky Dey’s Warren arrives as a breath of fresh air. Not only does his character provide an essential part of the play’s narrative, but also allows the audience the pleasure of watching an outsider take in the bizarre rituals of Emily and Georgia’s lives just as we have been doing.

Smith’s shadow puppets are delightful to look at and voiced splendidly, but at times the stories that accompany them are overly long and unwieldy, leaving the poor puppets bobbing about looking rather like actors desperately waiting for their fellows to remember to come onstage!

Tea for Toot is a charming and unique production that guarantees laughter. While at times there is a feeling that a lot of what we are watching is comprised of in-jokes that the actors and director Edward Watson are enjoying more than the audience, there are also many genuinely laugh-out-loud moments (the ‘world’ of Emily and Georgia’s ‘sleeps’ being a particular favourite). An enjoyable night at the theatre.  
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A magical and menacing must-see!

Review by Keziah Warner 02nd Mar 2011

Tea for Toot is the story of Emily and Georgia Waters, daughters of children’s author Mary Waters, and inspired by the daughters of Enid Blyton. They live their lives dictated by their mother’s wishes and immersed in the fictional world she has created for them. 

Forbidden from leaving the house, the daughters’ lives follow a daily routine of knitting, tea drinking, sleep-time, story-time and occasional self-medication. Their insular world is excellently portrayed by the two actresses, Alex Lodge and Cherie Jacobson, who make great use of physicality throughout. Lodge’s attempt to break their oppressive daily routine by simply standing up when she should be sitting is one of the highlights of the piece. 

Story-time sees the two actresses turn their hand to puppetry as Mary Waters narrates her story of Toot the naughty pixie and his friends Rowland the owl, Lilith the fairy and Mumble the bear. The shadow puppets add a childlike sense of magic to the piece that helps to draw you into Emily and Georgia’s world. These supposedly whimsical tales have an underlying edge of menace as we start to see the daughters’ complete belief in these characters.

It is during sleep-time that Georgia and Emily manage to escape their incarceration and truly come alive; their dreams provide them with further tales and mementoes for Georgia to stick in her scrapbook and Emily to write in her “rememoirs”. We watch as they gradually create yet more fiction in which to immerse themselves.

The sharp and often hilarious dialogue is peppered with Blyton’s infamous political incorrectness and adult content. Gypsy jokes and Golliwog gags abound. The imaginative and delightful script shows how the innocence of childhood games can mask a darker truth that Emily and Georgia are not ready to face. 

But their lives cannot continue on this path forever and one day a man – Warren Bentley (Ricky Dey) – comes to their house to change everything. Thinking he is Toot who has come to take them to Tall Tree Forest, they welcome him into their home and engage him in their world. But will he be able to make them understand the truth?

We must watch, helpless, as the world they have built begins to unravel. What lengths will the daughters go to, to save the only life they know? 

A magical and menacing must-see!

This review kindly supported by The James Wallace Arts Trust http://www.wallaceartstrust.org.nz/

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Whimsy and menace

Review by Lynn Freeman 27th May 2010

This is like a modern riff on Arsenic and Old Lace, though not in any way derivative. Actors Alex Lodge and Cherie Jacobson and director Edward Watson have devised something altogether more whimsical even than those two old dears who poisoned the elderly and infirm. 

Emily and Georgia are two dotty old girls who live in the shadow of their mother, the domineering (even in death) Mary Waters who wrote beloved if politically incorrect children’s stories like The Thrifty Threes and The Nautical Nine – you get the Blyton connections here.

The two ‘girls’ have a strict routine of knitting, pretend sleeping and pretend dreaming, and tea drinking. Their world is tiny, where even a visit from the postman with the occasional fan letter for their dead mother is a huge occasion causing both excitement and panic.

Emily is the more caustic and pessimistic of the two characters, and Alex Lodge gives her a real edge, combining her elfish looks with lines like, at the prospect of having gypsies read their tea leaves and tell their future, “I don’t want them to confirm what I already know.” There’s a lot in that when you think about it and the entire script is peppered with wordplay and devastating one liners.

Jacobson’s Georgia is more of a naïf, living more in the past than the present, but dangerously innocent in her own way.

Hannah Smith has come up with a set that feels just like the old bedroom of these two old girls, with toys and teapots side by side, and a stern portrait of their ghastly mother above the mantelpiece. The fireplace doubles as a proscenium arch for shadow puppetry where scenes from the mother’s books are retold.

At the end Georgia and Emily just can’t tell fact from fiction, and as nasty neighbourhood boys start to terrorise them, their home can no longer protect them from reality.

There is whimsy and menace in Tea for Toot, in equal measure.
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Quirky take on Enid Blyton a must see

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 25th May 2010

The setting for the current early evening show at Bats, Tea for Toot, is not what one normally expects from a Bats production.

It is the lounge of the Waters sisters, where teacups litter the stage along with lots of other bric-a-brac from a past era and where Emily (Alex Lodge) and Georgia (Cherie Jacobson), sit in antique Edwardian chairs knitting.

Their mother is a famous children’s writer – Mary Waters* – now dead. Toot is her most written-about character. The sisters, however, still regard her as alive and relive the many adventures of Toot, some of which are cleverly played out as shadow puppets on the set.

In a world of make-believe that they have never outgrown, their daily ritual is to have tea to honour the memory of their mother and Toot.

However, the play takes on a nasty twist when Warren (Richard Falkner) arrives – but to reveal who he is, why he’s there and what happens would be to spoil the suspense of this excellent production.

The play is a four-month collaboration between director Edward Watson and Lodge and Jacobson, conceived after reading an autobiography of [Enid] Blyton’s daughter.

Original and as quirky as anything seen at Bats recently, it is full of humour, much of which is uproariously funny. Yet the underlying message – the merging of reality with make-believe, the outside intruding on our private worlds and the power of memory – are expertly focused and come through with clarity.

All this is enhanced considerably by Watson’s austere direction, which gets the blend of comic business and dialogue just right, never allowing the production to tip over into melodrama. And the acting is spot on, Lodge’s understated lines as Emily, the down-to-earth, practical sister in complete contrast to Jacobson’s hyperactive, hysterical Georgia, who screams at the slightest thing – almost too much at times – including the sight of tea leaves, thinking they are invading ants.

This is a first-rate, new and original play, full of twists and turns and creatively brought to life by the actors. A must see.

*[Not Enid Blyton as published in the DomPost – ED] 
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A hoot and more

Review by John Smythe 22nd May 2010

Inspired by fond memories of the Enid Blyton stories they grew up on, their later understanding of the dodgy values inherent in her writing, and their discovery that all was not happy at home for the daughters of workaholic Enid, Full.stop.theatre has served up an acerbic brew of their own devising.

(Note: there are two minor spoilers in what follows, necessary in order to credit the true value of the work. I don’t believe reading either will spoil you enjoyment of the production, but read on at your own risk.- JS)

Tea For Toot invents the daughters of Blyton’s Kiwi equivalent, one Mary Waters (deceased), famed for her tales of the cheeky little pixie Toot, the Tall Tree Forest and the Nautical Nine. It has been devised and written by Alex Lodge and Cherie Jacobsen – who play Emily and Georgia respectively (and sometimes disrespectfully) – and director Edward Watson.

Having been warned never to venture out of the house (although they do shop at the supermarket) the quaintly time-warped spinsters live a limited life they’ve created for themselves by default, surrounded by their beloved childhood toys, cocooned from an outside word full of fearsome gypsies and poor people who can’t stop having babies.

Beneath the portrait of a benign-looking Mary, a ticking mantle clock sounds the hours that mark their routine: Tea Time, Sleep Time (perchance to dream) and Story Time. Between times they knit scarves for the poor, Georgia maintains her scrapbook, Emily writes her “rememoirs”, and they receive their mother’s fan mail, delivered by Mr Thimble the postman.

Being in denial about their mother’s death – she’s just upstairs, writing more tales of Toot and not to be disturbed unless the house is burning down – they remain under her authoritarian thumb and moral conditioning, because they know no other way.

While Georgia, who has a mortal fear of ants and mice, is fully compliant with Mother dear’s values in a persistently childlike way, Emily has a touch of the angry teenage rebel about her. But both find respite in their routine … And they do reply to a fan letter from someone in Porangia.

It’s when a different letter arrives, from the local Heritage Trust Board, that reality threatens to intrude. But they are neither inclined nor equipped to deal with such things.

Jacobson’s ever-so-bright Georgia and Lodge’s more darkly dangerous Emily bring a compelling truth to the notion of childhood trapped in adult bodies and incarcerated in parental control. There is a poignancy in what their shared dreams and some delight to be had in revisiting the tales of Toot, illustrated through shadow-puppetry and narrated – as the whole play’s chapter-book structure is – by Rachel More, with character voices by Ralph McCubbin Howell, Charlotte Bradley (also producer), Thomas McGrath, Watson, Lodge and Jacobson.

This distorted ‘reality’ has been established almost to the point of tedium when Warren from the Heritage Trust Board – played with no-nonsense truth by Richard Faulkner – arrives, intent on moving them on so their home can become a public museum dedicated to Mary Waters and her writings. This is not the “almost visitor” of their fantasies but a real visitor …

But of course, sillies, this is Toot in disguise! And there’s nothing like Opposites Day to makes it all fun and exciting! Then there is tea, the ritual of tea … And so it is proved that supposed childlike innocence can prove criminally fatal.

Hannah Smith’s evocation of an early 20th century sitting room, lit by Rachel Marlow, establishes the sisters’ lifestyle well and her shadow puppets are delightful. Tane Upjohn-Beatson’s original compositions add to the mood and Gareth Hobbs’ sound design is especially good.

While the play comments nicely on the Anglophile conditioning of colonial children, more could have been done, I feel, to hint at the real New Zealand just beyond the grasp of Emily and Georgia. Warren goes some way towards it but more could be got from the offstage postman (Maori, perhaps?) and the “young hooligans” in the cars (boy racers?) that we hear from time-to-time.

That said, Tea For Toot is a hoot and more, in its deft exorcising of those once-loved childish things we must put away, or at least get into perspective.
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