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Home for Christmas – The Penny Readings 2019

Written by Kirsty Styles, 16th December 2019

As part of The Reader’s Home for Christmas programme, for the first time the Penny Readings took place in our new home at the Mansion House in Calderstones Park.

The newly refurbished Garden Theatre, a beautiful 1940s addition to the Grade II listed public building, was filled with festive cheer as more than 150 guests joined us across two days for the merry, annual variety show.

In the Victorian tradition of public reading, the Penny Readings are a festive favourite - an evening of storytelling, song and performance all tied together by the golden thread of literature.

This year’s weekend of Shared Reading - a double bill on Saturday and Sunday - was an intimate occasion, put on as a thank you to our incredible volunteers and friends, and joined by some special guest performers.

Alongside The Reader’s founder and director Jane Davis on Saturday night was patron and author Frank Cottrell Boyce, BBC North West Tonight’s Mairead Smyth, BBC Radio Merseyside’s Roger Philips, The Reader’s training coordinator for children and young people Izzie Major bringing some comedy to the stage and extra special guest, Christmas elf Carter, sent from Santa’s grotto to read Clement Clarke Moore’s T’was the Night Before Christmas.

Photographs by Liam Deveney.

Extracts from Jeanette Winterson’s The Lion, The Unicorn and Me and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes were interspersed with live music from The Reader family, enhancing the cosy, familial atmosphere. Heather, Kris, Will and Lily from the catering team wowed our audience with an Irish fiddle, swing vocals, a cappella soprano and acoustic guitar, showcasing the enormous talent we boast under our roof!

Continuing the merrymaking, Sunday’s afternoon event featured readings from Liverpool-born actor Joe McGann, Reader Leader Helen Lee from Herefordshire and Angie MacMillan - longstanding editor of The Reader magazine, and our A Little, Aloud anthology series - who read a passage from George Mackay Brown’s The Lost Boy.

We were also treated to carols from Liverpool Chamber Choir, led by Reader Leader James (who you can catch at his Get Into Science Fiction Shared Reading group every Saturday at the Mansion House).

It was our pleasure to be joined by our volunteers from Northern Ireland, the South East, the South West and all over the UK on Sunday for a special celebration of their commitment to the Shared Reading movement.

Each event was closed in The Reader's classic tradition, with Professor Phil Davis’ legendary reading of the Cratchit family’s Christmas dinner scene, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, followed this year by a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

And so, we close the book on the Penny Readings, and the work of The Reader, for another year. See you in 2020!

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