Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, adapted by Malcolm McKee

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BBC Radio 7, 30 August 2010
Another tale of the Edwardian era, similar to Wind in the Willows, evoking an era of perpetual sunshine in rural Kent, where children could spend all day playing without fear of being attacked or molested. In this story they encountered a Psammead, or sand fairy, who granted them one wish each day. As the tale unfolded, it assumed the tone of a morality-play: the children wished for unlimited wealth which they could not spend; they were allowed to fly but ended up marooned at the rectory; became Red Indians and were nearly scalped for their efforts; and participated in a siege at a medieval castle which ended up with them tipping a bowlful of water on the maid's clean cap. Such experiences helped them to understand the importance of moderation and good behaviour.
In Rosemary Watts' production, the narrative unfolded in leisurely fashion, linked with commentaries from Mother (Julia McKenzie), and interventions from a three-piece band (including Malcolm McKee, who did the adaptation). This gave the adaptation a music-hall sense, in which each episode functioned as a turn involving the children and a host of other characters. Watts' strategy not only set Nesbit's novel in its historical context,  but encouraged us not to take anything too seriously. All we were watching were a series of variety episodes.
The adaptation also offered anciliary pleasures, such as listening to archaic expressions ("it's ripping") of a bygone age, as well as appreciating the historical references - for example, the moment when the Psammead looks forward to a time when education and health-care would be free for all. Both of these developments came about some four decades after Five Children and It was published.

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