The Book of Beasts
Children’s literature owes a lot to Edith Nesbit. JK Rowling, CS Lewis and Mary Poppins author PL Travers all cite her as an influence. Best known for her 1906 work, The Railway Children, Nesbit wrote an impressive 40 fictional works, one of which, The Book of Beasts, has been adapted by Scottish children’s theatre company, Catherine Wheels.
Artistic director, Gill Robertson, who plays the Nurse and a host of other characters in the piece, explains what drew her to Nesbit. ‘Her writing is so charming and unexpected that you’re completely won over by it,’ she says. ‘This story is so delightful and innocent – it’s a lovely, old fashioned adventure story for children.’
In the story Lionel, an eight-year-old boy who becomes king. Warned not to go into the palace library, and never to open ‘The Book of Beasts’, he does both, his actions unleashing a myriad of dangerous characters, which Catherine Wheels have found an inventive way of portraying.
‘The room starts off as Lionel’s nursery and is transformed into everything else,’ says Robertson. ‘Because children at that age have such vivid imaginations, that anything can become anything. So the wardrobe becomes the dragon, the table becomes the hippogriff and so on.’
Prior to writing, Nesbit was a political activist who co-founded the Fabian Society – a precursor to the Labour Party. Somewhat subliminally, Nesbit’s experience of politics seems to have found its way into her fiction.
‘She had a lot of respect for children and not much faith in adults being able to sort things out,’ says Robertson. ‘So although Lionel causes the problems, he also solves them, while all the adults do is have meetings and make committees.’
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Thu 19–Sat 21 Mar, then touring.