NANCY HEATH talks to Scrooge, AKA Alex McMorran, this Christmas season.
On a wintery day I caught up with Alex McMorran between rehearsals for Gus Miller’s rejuvenation of Neil Bartlett’s A Christmas Carol, to chat about his character Scrooge and the show’s new interpretation of Dickens’ timeless tale.
There’s hardly a person in London today who has not heard of the Christmas Carol story in some form or another, albeit sometimes merely the Muppets version. Taking on this famous tale and the iconic role of Scrooge is certainly ambitious – with such well-known material the stakes are raised.
McMorran seemed unconcerned. The new script uses only Charles Dickens’ original words, while extra effects will be created by the ensemble’s physicality and the addition of soundscapes. Gus Miller’s version is also set to include music woven throughout, such as traditional Victorian Christmas Carols sung by the actors.
‘It’s our interpretation’ McMorran said, commenting on how the director, Gus Miller, is very open to collaboration from all of the cast who had ‘jumped in with both feet’ to preparations— ‘there are no passengers!’ This extends even to the audience, who McMorran hopes ‘will use their imagination more’ and become part of the story themselves. A stage production will always beat television or film as it has intimate access to so many levels that those mediums lack: when you’re in theatre you’re ‘playing make believe’, McMorran remarks, with the people directly in front of you and everyone is in on the charade together. The effect will be amplified by the small ensemble of six actors. It seems McMorran might be the only one with a single set role: the ensemble will create the extra effects of sound, props and people, forming the world around Scrooge.
McMorran plays the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, a ‘bad’ character when we first meet him but McMorran believes fervently that he is not the villain of the piece. To begin with he seems distant and cold but gradually ‘thaws’ and ‘at the end he gets sentimental very quickly. It’s there inside him building throughout.’ Despite Scrooge’s initial disbelief upon seeing his old—dead—friend, Jacob Marley, in chains, he goes along with the ghosts quite quickly. When we see the Ghost of Christmas Past we see Scrooge as a small child. McMorran feels there’s a motif of children and childhood running throughout the performance, largely because at Christmas we become nostalgic and are able to remember our childhood years vividly. As Dickens said himself in the original novel: ‘It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas’.
There is a loneliness to A Christmas Carol as well as this joyousness however, both of which will be showcased in this inventive production. As the story is such a timeless tale, the time setting of the piece will be rather fluid. ‘It’s certainly still London though’, and the urban loneliness of the city is something which drives the darker undertones of this story, which is particularly important in our modern age. People used to ‘close off’ like Scrooge but now we are all prone to ‘turn on’ our phones or tablets and tune out real life. This is a story about bringing people back together: it’s infinitely hopeful.
That’s why A Christmas Carol is such a universal story: because it’s not just a ghost story, it’s also a love story of a different kind of love than what we expect. It is about everyone’s love and compassion for everyone else at this, the coldest time of the year, ‘and that,’ McMorran said, embodying the joyous Scrooge of the end of the play, ‘is really a beautiful thing’.
A Christmas Carol is showing at the Old Red Lion Theatre from Wednesday 10th December to Saturday 3rd January. For tickets and more information please click here
Image credited to Anna Soderblom.