Nicobobinus, the Boy Who Can Do Anything by Vicky Pointing

With Red Ladder Theatre’s national tour of Nicobobinus heading to Leeds this Friday (27/28 February at the Carriageworks Theatre), Vicky Pointing tells us her memories of reading Terry Jones’ children’s book Nicobobinus.

Nicobobinus, illustrated by Michael Foreman

Terry Jones’ Nicobobinus, illustrated by Michael Foreman

I first read Nicobobinus the year it was published, when I was seven, and my Dad – a huge Monty Python fan – excitedly brought it home from the bookshop. I remember him showing me the cover, and the sense of curiosity and anticipation which Michael Foreman’s illustration of a yellow-footed upside-down boy evoked was heightened by my Dad’s high expectations of the book. When he started reading it to me at bedtime that same day, neither of us were disappointed.

At the core of the story is Nicobobinus, the boy who can do anything, and his best friend Rosie, the source of his confidence and instigator of their adventure. From the first line, ‘This is the story of the most extraordinary child who ever stuck his tongue out at the Prime Minister’, the reader knows exactly what they’re in for; wonderful irreverent silliness, often at the expense of adults. The book begins on Nicobobinus’ doorstep, with Rosie suggesting a journey to the Land of Dragons as an alternative to weeding. From there, Nicobobinus and Rosie get themselves tangled up in all manner of tricky situations.

Towards the start of the story, Nicobobinus, on the run from the first in a series of extremely unpleasant adults, meets a golden man who turns his feet and one hand to gold. Much of the rest of the book is spent trying to find a cure, while avoiding the unwanted attentions of ruthless pirate monks, a desperate doctor, and a corrupt king, all of whom intend to do Nicobobinus harm so they can get their greedy hands on his valuable limbs. The landscapes that the children pass through on this journey are brilliantly inventive, including an ocean of slow moving mountains and a rainbow lake full of leopards.

Terry Jones with Red Ladder Theatre Company

Terry Jones with Red Ladder Theatre Company

The book ticks along at a rapid pace, and is stuffed full of imaginative scenarios, both terrifying and wonderful. As a child I was genuinely frightened of the cruel and violent golden men, as well as being delighted with the benevolent Black Ship, even though its existence is never really explained. But it wasn’t just the action that gripped me. As you might expect from a book written by Terry Jones, the humour is spot on, and kept both me and my Dad entertained as he read it aloud. For example, at one point Nicobobinus is being interrogated by an Abbot (a familiar Python-esque character), who asks if he has promised his golden hand to someone else. This is how the conversation unfolds:

“No sir,” replied Nicobobinus, and immediately felt a heavy clout on the back of his head.

“No, Your Holiness!” said the monk who was holding him.

“Ow!” said Nicobobinus, and got another clout.

“Ow! Your Holiness!” said the monk.

 

There is some interesting vocabulary in the book too; Jones doesn’t shy away from using terms like ‘fo’c’sle’, which, for anyone wanting to know, is a shortening of ‘forecastle’, meaning ‘living quarters consisting of a superstructure in the bow of a merchant ship where the crew is housed.’ (www.thefreedictionary.com) As a young reader, it’s very satisfying to have unfamiliar words thrown in your direction every now and then, but I hope my Dad had a dictionary to hand as I’m sure I would have expected him to explain this unusual term.

Jofre Alsina, Lloyd Gorman and Eilidh Debonnaire in Nicobobinus c. Ellie Kurttz

Jofre Alsina, Lloyd Gorman and Eilidh Debonnaire in Nicobobinus c. Ellie Kurttz

Then there was Rosie; a truly well-rounded supporting character who was – thank goodness – very much involved in moving the plot forwards. I’m sure that her positivity, imagination and courage sank into my subconscious, and that more two-dimensional female characters which I found in other books were judged against the standard she set and found wanting. It’s no surprise to me that, aside from Nicobobinus, my favourite children’s books also include The Snow Queen, another narrative where the girl does something, rather than waiting around for a prince to rescue her and generally sort things out.

The character of Nicobobinus was well drawn too, and I remember rooting for him all the way through the book, making my Dad read past my official bedtime so I could find out what happened next. Even if, at that age, I didn’t really understand some of the story’s themes around the nature of mankind and finding what you’re looking for on your own doorstep, the ending was satisfying.

Reading the book again now, I’m pleased to say that it’s still just as exciting, imaginative and witty.

Read more from Vicky Pointing by following her blog ‘What Vicky Did Next‘.


Red Ladder Theatre Comapny

For those who may have missed Yorkshire’s favourite radical theatre company, Red Ladder is  home this Spring, with a total of 18 shows across the region in February and March.

The national tour of NICOBOBINUS comes to Leeds’ Carriageworks Theatre –  an adventurous family musical based on Monty Python Terry Jones’ children’s book of the same name. This is a co-production between Red Ladder and their young actor musician associate company, DumbWise,  and is Red Ladder’s first ever family show.

NICOBOBINUS’ remaining Yorkshire dates are Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds (27 and 28 Feb), Bradford Playhouse (5 and 6 March) and The Civic, Barnsley (8 and 9 March).

Supporters of Red Ladder have launched the Save Red Ladder campaign and raised over £20, 000. You can join us too. Follow Save Red Ladder on Twitter and read more on the Save Red Ladder website.

 

Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend Festival. Fiona is the Festival's Coordinator, helping to bring the whole festival together.

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