The Stuffed Crocodile

Reginald Pemberton

The Stuffed Crocodile Horse Drawn Curiosity Engine. Lost & Found Tour. 2015

The Journey

And so it begins...

The Stuffed Crocodile Story Wagon will leave the workshop of master wagon builder Barny Maurice in Penrith, Cumbria, this April and so will begin our adventure together!!

Aboard The Stuffed Crocodile we will journey through the breathtaking beauty of the Lake District, southward to Windermere...

on to Heysham from where we board the ferry and cross the Irish Sea to the ancient Isle of Man.

Returning to the mainland we will make our way, with many curious and enchanting diversions, across the magical landscape of Northumberland toward Berwick-upon Tweed...

On to join the Greatest Show on Earth - The Edinburgh Fringe Festival...

In Edinburgh I am thrilled that we will be guests at the wonderful, much loved Gorgie City Farm.

Our first journey together (the first of many to come, I hope) aboard The Stuffed Crocodile Story Wagon will reach its fairy tale end on the fabled shores of Loch Ness!

Mr Smith Goes to Wonderland

The Great Pemberton (Darren Smith)

Darren Smith - Wandering Player & Fool.

I was born by Caesarean section at 18:52 on Friday August 27th 1971 in a seaside hospital on the South East coast of England. Hospital procedures being what they were back then I was kept in isolation for sixteen hours before being placed in my mother’s arms - this may or may not be narratively significant but I added it in because I think it sounds dramatic.

I decided to become an actor at the age of five having been given my first ever acting role, in a school harvest festival production of The Judgement of Solomon. I played the title role of the King. I was hopeless at sports, had absolutely no coordination, was partially sighted and wore national health spectacles - with an eye patch. So I found the whole sitting on a throne, wearing a crown and appearing wise and kingly gave me a much needed sense of self-worth and a first taste of the roar of the greasepaint.

In the often cruel world that is the playground caste system my credentials were finally established - “Darren does acting, he’s alright“.

I have been sporting various wigs, false noses, humps and dodgy accents ever since, despite the best efforts of my Acting masters to reign me in at the legendary Drama Centre London where I trained during 1994 - 1997.

I made my professional acting debut in 1998 at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London. My first professional role there as Portia’s manservant in The Merchant of Venice did not require me to carry a spear but I did carry a flaming torch. I has the honour of playing an assortment of character parts in that 1998 season. Then followed three years of touring and London productions. During this time I totally failed to get on the television - even on long running police drama The Bill. Every actor I knew had been on The Bill!

I went back home to Ramsgate to find work. First lucky break - as a toilet attendant for Kent County Council Social Services but after just three weeks I was fast tracked to the heady heights of Stationary Department Manager. With great power comes great responsibility and as the Tippex Tsar and purveyor Post-It Notes I had my second taste of great kingly power and influence over my fellows; I tried to use it wisely.

In 2003 I fell in love with a beautiful German girl, Franziska, and together we left the UK to live in Berlin for 11 years. Here in Germany, I have, among other things, collected beer glasses dressed as a monk at medieval banquets, learned landscape gardening, done four years of children’s theatre playing variously: a tree, a turtle smuggler and a 13 year old boy with a pet spider called Boris; directed audiobooks, voiced computer games and cartoons, dubbed German television news and films. I have published my own horror story magazine and sold it around the world. I created, with horror writer Guenther Primig, Berlin’s first Halloween theatre - The Theatre of Shadows. During this time I also fathered, with the beautiful Franziska, a most beautiful son, who is very well coordinated, excels at sports and wants to become a professional football player.

I am bringing home to the UK a dream and a passion project - The Stuffed Crocodile, my horse drawn story wagon full of weird and wonderful things, to share a hundred fantastical tales of fairies, ghosts and mythical monsters from all over the world.

I would like to share my adventure with you. Daily live and recorded webcasts will enable you to take a virtual seat alongside me and my dog Leika, in our wagon of wonders.

I hope you will join me for some magical tales and perhaps the journey of a lifetime!

The Model of the Wagon

The Stuffed Crocodile model wagon is 30 cm long, 16cm wide and 22cm high.

The model horse was a lucky find at a Berlin flea market!

The full scale wagon will have solar panels on the roof so that as the sun sets during the early evening shows, hidden fairy lights about the wagon will lend it an even more magical appearance.

Below is the road side view of the wagon - in the UK that is the right side. On the model we have just a suggestion of an antique circus sideshow banner. The actual banner will serve to promote the show and I hope that we can find a way to add specific venue details for each upcoming performance.

But I will also be webcasting and sending out Tweets too! Yes, there will be some tech involved so that I can charge my camera and laptop and upload the GoPro footage every day. More about that in another post.

The position of the door is another unique feature of the Brush Wagon. On a typical Vardo the door or entrance way is at the front, behind the driver. On a brush wagon the door is at the back - enabling the salesman to trade with the customer without the horse getting in the way.

Below you can see the back door sarcophagus. I have always been enthralled by the stories and photos of Howard Carter’s 1922 archaeological dig and, I must confess, almost as much by the legend of the 'Curse of the Pharaohs' and what allegedly befell various members of Carter's expedition.

These where the first photos I saw of Charlotte’s model. It was a very magical and even emotional experience to finally see something that, I had for some two years only imagined, now becoming a reality - albeit a miniature one!

Charlotte put the model on her balcony - just to give it a bit of context with the trees in the background. It really got my wanderlust going!

The two images above are unique. Charlotte landed a very nice job working on set for Steven Spielberg’s next film, currently being shot in Berlin, so she didn’t have time to check with me where the octopus should go! This was the first image I saw with the roof elements in place. I love how she has translated her artwork into model form. I call this one The Stuffed Octopus because he should be on the back!!

This is The Stuffed Crocodile Story Wagon as it should be. I very much hope you like it.


First Scribbles

After our first brainstorming session, Charlotte Reibell, my set designer and collaborator, came up with these scribbles. They are remarkably close to what we have ended up going with. I don’t know why I am surprised, she is brilliant.

Octopus? Check. Crocodile? Check. At this point, I had planned to perform around all sides of the wagon, taking my audience with me. That is why there is a world map of marvels on one side with a ladder. I have gone off that idea - but it is one of those things that can only really be tested with an audience.

I have always wanted to perform a more freestyle form of one man show, one that would evolve and grow, like a stand up comedy routine, to be adjusted and tweaked to suit every kind of audience, young or old, and every occasion.

An ‘A to Z’ of 26 boxes, The Stuffed Crocodile oddities on display - can be changed, props can be swapped, I can drop things altogether to lighten or darken the tone to suit the audience.

This is a wagon of myths, monsters and impossible things - to inspire wonder and amazement, shrieks of delight or fearful shudders.

First Technical Drawing

For practical reasons to do with only having one horse and my inexperience driving one I abandoned my original idea of having a travelling theatre with fold out stage floor and pop-up proscenium - inspired by both medieval traveling theatre-carts and Terry Gilliam’s Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus (see The Stuffed Crocodile Story Wagon Design Youtube film). Instead my wandering players 'The Pembertons' have fallen on hard times and are on the run from their creditors. They have nothing but their wits and a clapped out old horse and a battered circus side show wagon full of broken props and stolen oddities.

The Stuffed Crocodile wagon, in reality will be built in Cumbria by Mr. Barny ‘as seen on TV’ Maurice, of Wanderlusts fame. (

To give Barny some idea of what sort of a wagon I had in mind I asked my set designer, Charlotte Reibell, to come up with a technical drawing based on her preliminary sketches.

This version of The Stuffed Crocodile wagon was partly inspired by a photo of Barny’s grandfather’s brush wagon (see below). I love its simplicity. It is not an ornate Gypsy Vardo covered in romantic paintwork and carving.

It looks like a shed on a cart. You can see a rack on the side from which the wares could be displayed. It is purely functional.

There are also very practical reasons why this is a better design. It will be relatively light for a start as I will be driving one horse, and he should not pull more than one and a half times his own weight. I will also be running my show single handedly - so the less ‘moving parts’ the better!

Concept Art

Wagon Performance (Concept Art by Charlotte Reibell, 2014)

I love Charlotte’s depiction of what The Stuffed Crocodile might look like during a performance. All the little details - the gramophone record player, the step ladder for reaching the specimen jars on the top shelf, the mini theatre for Mabel the Mermaid, the octopus etc. I really like the stylised crocodile with his long snout. I’m hoping we can build the octopus’ body from fibreglass as I would love to have a light inside it.

Preliminary Sketches

These were the two preliminary sketches, by Charlotte Reibell, that really sold me on this particular design direction to go in with the wagon. A 'Cabinet of Curiosities' - a strangely ordered chaos of absurd, whimsical, magical, half formed and broken things

In the drawing below we see the ‘mini-theatre’. This is where Mabel The Mermaid’ may make an occasional appearance. Mabel an end of pier, seaside starlet, is The Great Pemberton’s elderly mother; she is a terrible singer, forgetful raconteur and lousy psychic. She and her mermaid costume have seen better days!