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CLASSICAL AND JAZZ: The Owl and the Pussycat at various venues


Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ drawing

Published: 19 July, 2012

It’s one of the great “Why?”

questions of literature.

Why did the Owl and the Pussycat put to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat in Edward Lear’s 1871 nonsense poem?

Ex-Monty Python polymath Terry Jones provides an answer in the libretto for a water-bound opera commis­sioned by the Royal Opera House.

The Owl and the Pussycat is set to music by Anne Dudley and will be performed at various places across London over the next week or so. “It’s always been a puzzle – how did they come to know each other, how did they fall in love and why did they put to sea?”, said Terry Jones at his home in Highgate.

“But when you think about it, it’s really quite simple. After lusting after the pretty cat for some while, the owl made an approach and they went out together.

“The rumour gets about that a cat has been seen in the company of an owl and that perturbs the Society of Feline Decency which says ‘it’s disgraceful for a cat to go out with a bird’. So then, of course, the only way the owl and the pussycat can continue their love affair is to put to sea.”

Then, as Lear relates, they sail away for a year and a day, to the land where the Bong-tree grows.

And after buying a ring from a Piggy-wig, they’re married by the Turkey who lives on the hill, enjoy a wedding feast of mince and quince and dance by the light of the moon.

The Jones/Dudley opera is performed by six singers. As well as Owl and Pussycat, there are singing parts for the Piggy-wig, Turkey, Bong tree and two members of the League of Feline Decency and there’s a different local chorus at each performance.

The opera runs for 35 minutes, slightly shorter than their one-hour opera The Doctor’s Tale performed last year at the Royal Opera House. Together, they should make a splendid double.

• Owl and the Pussycat, suitable for children aged 5+. 
• July 20 at 7.30pm: Brentford Lock, Commerce Road, Brentford, TW8, free/ticketed via
• July 22 at 2pm: Horsenden Farm, Greenford, UB6 7PB, free
• July 25 at 2.30pm and 6.30pm: Little Venice, Warwick Avenue, Paddington, W2 1XB, free
• July 29 at 3pm and 6pm: City Road Basin, Graham Street Gardens, Graham Street, Islington N1 8GB, free/ticketed via
• July 31 at 6pm: Mile End Park Arts Pavilion, Burdett Road, Tower Hamlets, E3 4TN, free
• Full details at www.roh./


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