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Interview with Alexander Wright, writer/producer of 'A Christmas Carol' by the Flanagan Collective, the Lamb and Lion, York

Published by: Sue Casson on 24th Dec 2012 | View all blogs by Sue Casson

York-based Alexander Wright has ‘lovingly bastardised’ Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ for the Flanagan Collective’s interactive Christmas show at the Lamb and Lion, York (selected dates until December 30th). I caught up with him for a quick chat.

SC: So, what have you been up to?

AW: I run two theatre companies, Belt Up Theatre, resident at York Theatre Royal since 2009, and the Flanagan Collective, with whom I’ve adapted and produced ‘A Christmas Carol’. I’m also an Associate Artist at YTR. I’m mainly a playwright but people like us have to do everything! My play ‘The Boy James’ is currently touring America with Belt Up, I have two musicals touring in the spring, and a play called ‘The William Stories’ at London’s Polka Scrooge Screen shot 2011-12-16 at 16_02_58.pngTheatre. I was also Associate Director of the 2012 York Mystery plays, which were really wonderful to be part of. It was remarkable to see how much people cared, not necessarily for religious reasons, but because of the story, and the fact that these plays belong to the people of York. Many people had never been involved in theatre before. There was a remarkable community spirit that brought out the best in people. It was heartening to spend that much time with 1500 people. What a good chat with a great bunch of people can do is amazing, so it was very humbling to be part of. In theatre, you end up in your own little world, but I was thinking, ‘This is the first time you’ve ever acted and you’re learning my rules but you’re an incredibly successful barrister’. All those people from such rich, vibrant backgrounds in a room together – and they’re waiting for me to tell them what to do! Very peculiar. They were lovely. Lots of brilliant people.      

SC: Why ‘A Christmas Carol’?

AW: Thomas Bellerby, the director, and I were chatting over a pint in the Lamb and Lion (a historic pub nestling below York city walls, about a minute’s walk from YTR) about how lovely it is when people eat and drink together. In Soho, a lot of pubs and cafes have started advertising communal dining tables, so I thought that people might enjoy sitting down with others to eat and share an experience. The Lamb and Lion is a beautiful Victorian building, so ‘A Christmas Carol’ came up. Like the Mystery Plays, it’s a story that you know well but just kind of by osmosis. You think of Scrooge as a ‘Bah, humbugging’ miser, shouting at everyone for no good reason, but a very tender, sad story emerges as you begin to understand why he is like that, and his social difficulties in terms of his upbringing, his relationship with his family, what he hasn’t had. In the book, his finance rejects him, saying that his nature has changed and that he’s become fixated on monetary rather than romantic or friendship value. That’s very sad.

SC: Why did you decide to make it a highly interactive production?

AW: We wanted to spend time developing a forum whereby people could just have a lovely evening, laughing and entering into the spirit of the story. People are remarkable. Twenty strangers come together and are so generous towards each other, helping each other to food and mulled wine. It’s great to be a part of that. You feel you’ve made brief, passing friends. We’re at a party held by Marley at Scrooge’s house, which Scrooge, naturally, isn’t very happy about. We’ve done away with the spirits, but I don’t think anyone’s noticed, so that’s alright. Marley is the conduit for all three spirits, guiding Scrooge through his memories. The Ghost of Christmas Present is ourselves, as Scrooge watches us feasting, playing games, singing and having a great time. We can’t rehearse that, but it’s been going well, and the audience is great, playing along. That bit of the storytelling is just real - we don’t show five actors having a lovely meal together. The audience help each other, share a meal and talk, in the true Christmas spirit, which is lovely.

SC: Do you think that interactive theatre is the future?

AW: I’ve always found it very difficult to ignore an audience. It’s a very modern thing to pretend that you’re in the real world and that everyone in the dark isn’t real, which is why making work in pubs is great. People go to the theatre to watch a play and then leave, whereas they’ll happily spend two hours in the pub just because it’s a nice place to be, so making work in a pub is great. In ‘A Christmas Carol’, you’re part of the conceit, because you help Marley to cheer Scrooge up. People start to interact with him and really care about him. When Scrooge gets himself a minute bit of bread and cheese, people say, ‘Come on, Ebenezer! You can eat more than that!’, and he says, ’No, no, this is fine’. People will always make traditional theatre and  I’m not saying we should knock down the National (or should we?!), but I think it’s much more fun to be a part of something than to be presented with it, and just clap politely at the end. 

SC: Finally, why should people come and see ‘A Christmas Carol’?

AW: It’s just a lovely way to spend time. It has real heart to it, and that comes from the audience; it’s how much they give that makes it special. Christmas gives us a nice excuse to be openly generous. It isn’t about expensive presents, but about having a good time with others, so it’s lovely to make a play where people are at the centre. We’re not trying to present something clever or new, to smash anything down or make anyone cry. We’re just trying to do something genuine. The success of the evening is nothing to do with us. We just hope that people will leave having had a great time because of everyone in the room.  


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Thanks, Sue. This is like an unexpected Christmas present! Merry Christmas!
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