It's exciting being back in Birmingham at the Old Joint Stock Pub and Theatre. And last years London sellout version of my A Christmas Carol has done just that again - this time in Birmingham. Here's what I wrote for the theatre programme.
We all know Charles Dickens' remarkable Christmas story. He wrote it in 1843, just as his fame and success as a writer was fading. The novella has not been out of print since! I first came across the book as a boy. I borrowed a children's version of the story from the Library at Wheelers Lane School in Kings Heath, Birmingham and forgot to take it back. Like most kids, I was amazed, fascinated and slightly horrified at the tale. And it became a ritual. I would read the book every year at Christmas in our council house in Hollybank Road, sometimes with my sister, but mainly in bed and at night. I had to make sure I got to the end of the book by Christmas Eve. Every Christmas Eve.
It would take me some years to realise how Charles Dickens influenced his society and indeed, later authors such as George Orwell who professed to wanting to make writing about social issues an art form. In recent history, Dickens was one of the best, I think.
I’d wanted to write a version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ when we were still at the Billesley Pub. Indeed I started to do just that in 1996-ish. But we were in a recession and my brother had been made redundant. His reward for being a ‘hardworking family’ was for him, his wife and four young children to be evicted from their family home by the bank. Their comfortable home then sat empty for nearly two years. So without knowing why at the time, I wrote a play called ‘A Ghost of A Chance’ about a man who is made redundant. I was delighted when it won the Guinness Award through the Royal National Theatre. Although the main characters are still called Bob and Tim! And Tim is tiny!
And now Maverick Theatre has changed again. The original idea of Maverick was to attract a non-theatre audience to the theatre. I’d realised working with lots of OxBridge types on radio the reason nobody on our estate ever went to the theatre was that nobody ever asked us. So we - Maverick - invited the estates and they came. We were the only pub theatre in Birmingham and we were once described by The Stage as the biggest in the country. (I claim COMPLETE credit for the OJS Theatre pub
Theatre in Birmingham, by the way. Although it may have more to do with the pub management..!) But in London there are dozens of theatres above pubs, so I thought we’d go back to another fundamental - ensemble storytelling. With Katie Merritt - introduced to me, by the way, by another Birmingham stalwart who STILL lives in the area, former Birmingham Rep Artistic Director John Adams - I found a willing co-operator. And Scrooge seems to have been some what ‘Walt Disney’d’ over recent years. So this version, first presented at the Wheatsheaf in the West End of London last year, used NO sound and light effects and the cast did everything. Most of the language and the script is Charles Dickens, but I hoped the shape of the script and the ‘beats’ we would create could be sufficiently transparent, accessible and moving for an audience. It proved to be so. The critics got what we were doing and were universally positive and as a result the whole run sold out. RemoteGoat described us as "the new bohemians of Soho!"
We’re using more of the OJS theatre technology here. And I’m finding it quite emotional. The last time we performed in a pub in Brum was 1999. It’s good to be back. I’m very impressed with the OJS Management. I’m also looking forward to a good curry! And I might drive past my childhood home at 154 Hollybank Road in Billesley and glance up at my old bedroom window. Because it looks like, once again, I’m involved in Charles Dickens’ magical tale at Christmas.
Location:Cromwell Road,London,United Kingdom
In : Nick Hennegan
Tags: pub theatre charles dickens a christmas carol birmingham george orwell plays theatre.
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