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Interactive shows to give audiences a buzz

Former children’s laureate, broadcaster, poet, performer and author Michael Rosen is bringing two new family musical shows to the Midlands. He talks to Catherine Vonledebur .

Michael Rosen
Michael Rosen

Centrally Heated Knickers and The Great Enormo – A Kerfuffle in B flat for Orchestra, Wasps and Soprano are the latest imaginatively-titled works by children’s poet Michael Rosen.

One is a new, interactive young person’s guide to the orchestra and the other a vibrant jazz-influenced children’s theatre show about science and sound, performed with the Homemade Orchestra.

Michael will be performing and narrating The Great Enormo with the CBSO at Symphony Hall on October 27. The show had a world premiere with the City of London Sinfonia at the Brighton Festival last May, where Michael was guest director.

The Great Enormo takes families on a musical journey through Mr Enormo Biggins’ time-travelling Theme Park in search of a theme tune. The audience will travel to the wild west, intergalactic space, a pirate ship and 1950’s New York.

The eccentric, energetic and enthusiastic 67-year-old explains: “We are looking to compose a theme tune for Mr Enormo Biggins’ Great Theme Park. It is fabulous fun – a new theme park that allows its visitors to travel through time.

“It’s very interactive. We get the children and adults to be killer wasps and buzz. When we travel to 1953 Manhattan they help us with an early rap. We have a big sea fight and throw orange pips at pirates.”

The anarchic author known for his sense of humour will be introducing his young audience to the instruments and techniques of an orchestra.

“We will ask the audience is a trumpet or a viola better for the blues?”

But the former children’s laureate admits writing a new young person’s guide to the orchestra was a challenge.

Luckily he was assisted by talented husband-and-wife team James Morgan and Juliette Pochin – a classically-trained conductor and soprano.

“The idea for a new updated young person’s guide to the orchestra came from James and Juliette. They asked could I come up with a story. Over 18 months we worked together.

“I like music, but I am not musical. It was a challenge.

“I first did it with the City of London Sinfonia. It is staggering to watch the musicians. I look at the skills they have and I am utterly awestruck.”

Michael’s parents, Jewish immigrant teachers, inspired his life-long interest in education.

Originally he wanted to be an actor but trained as a doctor at Middlesex Hospital Medical School, before switching to study English at Wadham College, Oxford University.

Like his parents, who were keen socialists, he became politically active at university and was arrested twice – once for demonstrating against the war in Vietnam; another time for demonstrating against a racist hairdresser in Oxford. At university he won a Sunday Times drama competition and his play was performed at London’s Royal Court.

His first job as a trainee was working on the cult BBC children’s TV programme, Playschool.

Mind Your Own Business – Michael’s first children’s poetry book – was published in 1974 and illustrated by Quentin Blake. He has since gone on to write more than 140 touching, humorous and personal books and poetry collections, including the much loved, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book and The Fantastic Mr Dahl, a Roald Dahl biography for children.

He was the fifth children’s laureate from 2007 until 2009, and one of the first poets to visit schools. He is now a Visiting Professor of Children’s Literature at Birkbeck, University of London.

Michael’s latest book, Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story – continues his fascination with language. It is a history of the alphabet for adults and comes out in November.

A poet-in-demand, he is also touring the UK with another theatrical new musical show – aiming to inspire children aged seven to 11 about science.

Centrally Heated Knickers, based on a poetry book of the same name, comes to Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, on October 28.

Michael says it is one of the most inventive things he has been part of.

“The Homemade Orchestra approached me five years ago. They were interesting in collaborating with a poet. I did two books of nonsense poetry (Michael Rosen’s Book of Nonsense and Even More Nonsense) and they said: ‘this is just great’. We devised a Nonsense Show, which ran as part of London Jazz Festival.

“I’ve been working with them over the last two years about a book of science poems I wrote called Centrally Heated Knickers.”

As a passionate advocate of children’s reading, libraries are a subject close to Michael’s heart. As many of Britain’s smaller libraries face the axe, he explored their future and the Library of Birmingham – Britain’s biggest public lending library– in a two-part investigation Our Libraries: The Next Chapter on Radio 4.

To celebrate the opening of the new library, Michael is also taking part in the Young Reader’s Birmingham Festival. He will be performing a morning of poetry at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on November 6 at 10.30am, as well as various school workshops.

* Tickets for The Great Enormo are available on 0121 345 0603 or www.cbso.co.uk/concerts

Tickets for Centrally Heated Knickers are available on 024 7652 4524/visit www.warwickartscentre.co.uk

For information about Michael Rosen’s performance at Birmingham Rep, call Sian Hardy on 0208 977 2316 or email sianh.bookshow@gmail.com

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