skip to Main Content

Wake-up Mr Kean – Audiobook



Listen to a brand-new story

Charlie and his mum live in the Cornish town of Penzance. In the yard of a nearby pub is the Old Theatre, dark, deserted and condemned. Charlie meets a man with wild eyes and black curls who speaks menacing words from Shakespeare. He holds Charlie spellbound – then vanishes. Who is he and what does he want? Charlie must save the theatre. It’s where the stranger will rest at last – but will Charlie do it in time or will it be knocked down and lost forever?

This exciting timeslip story is based on the legendary single performance given by Edmund Kean, the great 19th century actor, at the Old Theatre in Penzance. Charlie’s adventures take him to face spiteful enemies, the untidy feelings of grown-ups, and cumbersome rules and regulations. But they also take him to new friendships, dramatic events, and hope.

Chapter Timings

Part 1  37 m 44 s     Chapters 1 – 3
Part 2  32 m 18 s     Chapters 4 – 6
Part 3  37 m 43 s     Chapters 7 – 9
Part 4  37 m 24 s     Chapters 10 – 13
Part 5  36 m 12 s     Chapters 14 – 16
Part 6  31 m 36 s     Chapters 17 – 19
Part 7  19 m 18 s      Chapters 20 – 21

Author’s message

Wake Up Mr Kean was started about twenty years ago, before everyone had a mobile phone and I’ve kept it that way. A few things have changed in Penzance since then, but the shell of the Old Theatre is still at the back of the Union Hotel in Chapel Street, safely listed. The front of the Union doesn’t look at all like it did when Kean was alive, so I looked at the different pubs in Chapel Street that were there then, and made the Hope and Glory a cheerful kind of mixture of them all.

I’ve tried not to alter anything else. You can visit the Morrab Library and its tropical gardens, the Penlee Open Air Theatre opens its gates in the summer, and Mazey Day is still Mazey Day, crazy, garish and loud, thank goodness. But if you do come to Penzance, and I hope you do, you will find the Dizzy Duck café in Market Jew Street under another name – just a clue, it’s got wings!


About Mr Kean

Playbill of Kean’s performance at the Old Theatre, Penzance.
Courtesy Morrab Library, Penzance.

About Edmund Kean

On Wednesday, 13th August, 1828, Edmund Kean really did come to Penzance to play Shylock in the Old Theatre. One of the greatest tragic actors of all time, Kean’s performance of Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice took London by storm. Overnight, he became the first super-star.

In reality it was far from overnight. As a runaway child, he roamed the country from theatre to theatre, learning his trade, sometimes on horseback riding through the night, sometimes trudging along on foot. He became a brilliant acrobat, playing clowns and larger-than-life characters, all the while secretly working on his own unique idea of how the great Shakespeare villains should be played. His way of acting was new, electrifying. Other actors stood still and declaimed their words, but Kean made his characters come alive, moving audiences to laughter or tears with his energy and passion.

Fame went to his head. Offstage he grew difficult and erratic. He drank too much, became arrogant and rebellious, getting involved in scandals. He quarrelled with theatre managers, the press turned on him, but onstage, he still came alive. His faithful fans still flocked to see him but others stayed away.

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023
Daniel Maclise’s portrait of Edmund Kean
National Gallery of Ireland, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


In Penzance, the popularity of the Old Theatre was also waning. We only have one playbill to prove that Kean did play Shylock there. Was he asked to come to boost the audiences in a failing theatre? What did the audience think of him? Did he bring his pet lion with him? Did he stay at the Union Hotel? Did he ride his horse Shylock the three hundred miles from London all through the night?  We shall never know, but it’s fun to let the imagination run riot – something Edmund Kean would surely like us to do!

What did the Old Theatre look like?

You can’t visit the Old Theatre in Penzance but you can visit the Georgian Royal Theatre in Richmond, Yorkshire

The Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, Yorkshire.
Courtesy of the Royal Georgian Theatre archive.

In the same year, 1778, Edmund Kean was born and the Old Theatre in Penzance was opened. Just one year later, up in Richmond in Yorkshire, the Theatre Royal followed. It seems that the two buildings looked very like each other and may have been designed by the same architect.

Kean acted in both theatres, appearing in one near the beginning, and one towards the end of his short life. He performed in Yorkshire as a young man, playing Harlequin and other parts needing his amazing physical skills. Samuel Butler, the Manager of the Theatre Royal, had so much faith in his talent that he paid the actor’s coach fare to take a job in London.

Today, the Old Theatre is just as it is in the book, dark and empty, almost a ghost in itself, but the Georgian Theatre Royal has been restored to its original state. It is open for back-stage visits, with or without a ghost – but even Edmund Kean can’t haunt two places at once, so if he’s anywhere, hopefully he’s settled down now in Penzance!

Theatre Tours | Tours | The Georgian Theatre Royal

Go behind the scenes

Things to do

Mr Kean’s Quiz

Have you finished reading the book? See if you can remember some of the details.

1  What was Mr Clemo’s jacket made of? Blue denim/purple velvet/pink lace
2  What was the flag on Dee’s motor scooter? Checkered flag/union jack /black & white Kernow flag
3  Which two Shakespeare characters did Brian play in the Pam Dram play in the Park? Romeo & Juliet/Titania & Oberon/Hansel & Gretel
4  What was Charlie and his mum’s family name? Tremelling/Kelynack/Ponsonby-Smythe
5  What kind of flowers were growing in the pots on the pub patio? Roses/dandelions/geraniums
6  Jowan and Evie the Barmaid were cousins. What facial feature made them look alike? Brown eyes/gappy teeth/red lipstick
7  Which giant Mazey Day Parade figure had children dressed as daffodils with them? Fisherman/Victorian school teacher/farmer
8  What was Bel eating when Charlie saw her from the Mazey Day Parade? Candy floss /fish & chips/toffee apple
9  What kind of hat was Major Cutforth wearing when Davey poured water over him? Panama/cycle helmet/deerstalker
10  What did Charlie draw on the plaster cast on Bel’s leg? Can of soda/skull & crossbones/pink sunglasses Scroll down for the answers

Charlie’s Penzance

Charlie could have seen all these things and places when he was out and about in Penzance. Mr Kean could only have seen some of them on his visit in 1828. Not all are mentioned in the book, but they are all waiting for you to discover them when you come to Penzance one day.

Six of these are 200 years old at least. They are the ones Mr Kean could have seen when he came to the Old Theatre.

  • Which do you think they are?

Scroll down for the answers

  • Which do you think he would have enjoyed most?
  • Which of the other, newer ones, would he have most liked to see?

Why not write and tell Bridget what you think at [email protected]

Writers’ workshop at the Morrab Library

You can be a writer too

If you like reading stories, you might want to write some of your own – but where to start? Right here!

  • Look at the pictures really closely.  There are often tiny things hidden away in them that you don’t notice at first. They can make a big difference to what and how you write.
  • Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or best writing to start with. Get your thoughts down and edit them afterwards. That’s fun to do – you can see your writing take shape and come to life in a very satisfying way.
  • Research is another important thing a writer has to do – and is great fun too. Look at some books or go online to find things out about what you see in the pictures before you start putting your writing ideas down on paper.
  • Keep a notebook. If you don’t need your discoveries now, they may come in useful next time you’re looking for something to write about.

Some ideas to start you off

  • Choose the ‘modern’ picture you like best. Write to Mr Kean describing what’s in it. Tell him about it, and why you like it – and why he might like it too.
  • Which of the old things or places you would you like to know more about? What if someone wanted to knock it down, like they did the Old Theatre? Write a letter to a newspaper. Explain why it should be saved.
  • Put together one of the pictures and a character from the book. Who are they? Where are they? What happens? Write a story of your own about them.
  • Draw pictures to illustrate your writing.

You don’t have to stick to just one choice – write about all the pictures if you like! You can send them to Bridget on [email protected] if you’d like her comments – maybe after you’ve done a really thorough edit!


Mr Kean could have seen

  • Market Cross is a thousand years old and the Cider Mill stone about four hundred.
  • Mr Kean could have borrowed books from the Morrab Library but not from this building – it has moved several times since it opened in 1818.
  • Mazey Day has been going on every year for centuries, except during World War II and covid.
  • St Michael’s Mount dates back to the 12th century
  • The Egyptian House was built in 1835, two years after Mr Kean died.
  • Penlee Park Open-Air Theatre and Jubilee Pool, opened in the last half of the 20th century
  • The Exchange opened in 2007 in an older building once the Penzance Telephone Exchange.

Mr Kean’s Quiz 1: Purple velvet   2: The black and white Kernow (Cornish) flag   3: Romeo and Juliet   4: Kelynack        5: Geraniums   6: A gap tooth grin   7: A farmer   8: Candyfloss   9: A Panama hat   10: A skull and crossbones.

Back To Top