Cautionary Tales - more performance poetry

Post Christmas lunch.. full to the brim with turkey and Chritmas spirit, what could be better than to amuse the family with a cautionary tale? These poems/monologues were a strange beastie, incredibly popular in the late nineteeth/early twenties century. The master is Hilaire Belloc whose Cautionary Tales are full of examples of people whose actions bring them to a (normally abrupt) end.

Although the subject matter is macarbre, these poems make wonderful performance pieces. The lyrical language lends itself to reading outloud and you can use pauses to increase anticipation before revealing the climax. At Brandon Learning Centre, we have poetry reading shows twice a year and I have noticed that the audiences will lean forward as performers pause before the high point of their poems.

My father, who is a born performer, used to read "Albert and the Lion" in which the combination of a small boy, a walking stick and a lion leads to a predictable result. The monologue was originally performed in a drawling Lancashire accent by Stanley Holloway I was delighted to find the recording on You Tube.

If you don't feel that you can memorise twenty-odd verses, I am sure that your audience will forgive you using notes. If you choose this option, don't forget the eye-contact, not least to see your audience's reaction as the characters get their come-uppance!

Matilda, whose casual relationship with the truth brought her to a sticky end

Stanley Holloway's original reading

And the whole monologue:

Albert and the Lion - Marriott Edgar

There's a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That's noted for fresh-air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert their son.

A grand little lad was their Albert
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
'E'd a stick with an 'orse's 'ead 'andle
The finest that Woolworth's could sell.

They didn't think much to the ocean
The waves, they was fiddlin' and small
There was no wrecks... nobody drownded
'Fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.

So, seeking for further amusement
They paid and went into the zoo
Where they'd lions and tigers and cam-els
And old ale and sandwiches too.

There were one great big lion called Wallace
His nose were all covered with scars
He lay in a som-no-lent posture
With the side of his face to the bars.

Now Albert had heard about lions
How they were ferocious and wild
And to see Wallace lying so peaceful
Well... it didn't seem right to the child.

So straight 'way the brave little feller
Not showing a morsel of fear
Took 'is stick with the'orse's 'ead 'andle
And pushed it in Wallace's ear!

You could see that the lion didn't like it
For giving a kind of a roll
He pulled Albert inside the cage with 'im
And swallowed the little lad... whole!

Then Pa, who had seen the occurrence
And didn't know what to do next
Said, "Mother! Yon lions 'et Albert"
And Mother said "Eeh, I am vexed!"

So Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Quite rightly, when all's said and done
Complained to the Animal Keeper
That the lion had eaten their son.

The keeper was quite nice about it
He said, "What a nasty mishap
Are you sure that it's your lad he's eaten?"
Pa said, "Am I sure? There's his cap!"

So the manager had to be sent for
He came and he said, "What's to do?"
Pa said, "Yon lion's 'eaten our Albert
And 'im in his Sunday clothes, too."

Then Mother said, "Right's right, young feller
I think it's a shame and a sin
For a lion to go and eat Albert
And after we've paid to come in!"

The manager wanted no trouble
He took out his purse right away
And said, "How much to settle the matter?"
And Pa said "What do you usually pay?"

But Mother had turned a bit awkward
When she thought where her Albert had gone
She said, "No! someone's got to be summonsed"
So that were decided upon.

Round they went to the Police Station
In front of a Magistrate chap
They told 'im what happened to Albert
And proved it by showing his cap.

The Magistrate gave his o-pinion
That no-one was really to blame
He said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.

At that Mother got proper blazing
"And thank you, sir, kindly," said she
"What waste all our lives raising children
To feed ruddy lions? Not me!"

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