Avril Lethbridge was disenchanted with Christmas seasons animated by the latest Nintendo or Apple accessory. As a result, this granny decided to do something about it. “I dreamt up this very silly idea of a walk around trees, which are lit, and the trees tell you their stories.”
A simple idea: to create a holiday experience connected to nature and storytelling rather than frenetic stores and shopping. And she’s realised it with Britain’s big-time, brand-name thespians and theatre-folk, all to benefit charity.
In the gathering darkness of the evenings of December 1 -4, guides with lanterns will lead groups round the grounds of Henley Business School, along paths that lead to trees festooned with lights. At each stop, the tree tells its story, via short clips recorded by a host of talent. Barry Humphries voices the spirit of the old oak tree. Mark Rylance, the actor, theatre director and playwright, recounts a Cherokee story of why some trees are evergreen. Bill Nighy, Andrew Wincott from the Archers, Zoe Wanamaker, Miriam Margolyes, Lucy Fleming, and Rolf Harris, among others, have volunteered their voices to the project, which benefits KidsOut Charity as well as Oxfordshire Playbus.
“Each person feels that they’re talking to them,” Lethbridge explains. “I hope that one day someone looks back and says ‘Do you remember when that tree spoke to me?’”
In addition to the trees there are also Christmas-themed mise-en-scene: a nativity scene (Natascha McElhone tells a French nativity story), elves working on toys and pretend reindeer.
Everyone is a volunteer, Lethbridge says, including the lighting designer, Mike Atkinson (he’s also in charge of lighting at a little thing called the National Theatre).
The program runs rain or shine and booking is essential. Tickets are £2.50 each, free for under 5s. The entire walk takes about 30 minutes. There are still slots available but act fast. While it was created with children in mind, Lethbridge says they’ve even had adults booking their tickets to experience an evening of magical storytelling on their own.
“If you don’t have children, borrow some or let the child in you take over,”she says.
Stories by Starlight 1 - 4 December, 2010
01525 385 252
Henley Business School, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 3AU
If you're interested in Stories by Starlight events, contact Avril Lethbridge at avril (dot) lethbridge (at) googlemail (dot) com.