INTERVIEW: Jasper Britton takes on Ebenezer Scrooge in Curve’s all new production of Scrooge the Musical
Curve will be bringing the magic of Christmas to Leicester with an all new production of Scrooge the Musical. Based on Charles Dickens’ much-loved A Christmas Carol, Scrooge takes you and Ebenezer Scrooge on a spellbinding journey through Christmas past, present and yet-to-come. Will the miserable Scrooge cancel Christmas? Bah Humbug! SIXTY9°’s Jonathan Fraser caught up with Scrooge himself – played by Jasper Britton- to find out more.
Curve Christmas performances are usually epic productions, is it a large cast this year? 22 I think and then with the children around 50. I’m still introducing myself to people! It’s a little easier as Scrooge doesn’t have a huge amount to do with most of the children, I just wave my stick at them and tell them to get off my lawn most of the time! They’re all really talented, they’re too talented, might actually have to sabotage a few of them, they’re much too good!
The Musical has some really big set numbers in it doesn’t it. Yes there are. I’ve got a couple of numbers but there are some very catchy tunes. Thank you very much, I Hate People, I’ll Begin Again, that people I’m sure will recognise, they’ll have heard it somewhere.
Are you looking forward to getting a hold of these big numbers? Oh yes, it’s fantastic- I can’t wait. We’ve got Anton Stephens, who is going to be so amazing as the Ghost of Christmas Present. He’s like a force of nature, he’s like Hurricane Ophelia except he doesn’t do any damage. He just brings energy and light and joy into the room. And Karen Mann as Marley is also just wonderful and Sharon Phull is amazing. All of them, Danny Boy-Hatchard, just fantastic. With Thank You Very Much, they are all just gonna blow the theatre roof off!
We last saw you in Curve’s production of What the Butler Saw which was obviously a play – have you done much musical theatre? I was a founder member of what is now the National Youth Music Theatre, so when I was 12 singing solos and all sorts of things at the Edinburgh Festival and the Young Vic. We won a Fringe first actually. So ever since then there has been the odd moment where musicals have cropped up. I played the cat in Honk which won the Olivier, it beat The Lion King. I’ve done Beggar’s Opera twice, I played the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors. So yeah, I’m probably not people’s first thought when it comes to musicals, but I’ve had a long and colourful past with musicals in general.
What do you think it is about Dickens tale that has made it such a favourite? It is immensely powerful. Listening to the cast reading a scene and then listening to what everybody thinks of it, sees in it and how it refers to their own experience and own lives. It makes everyone think about their own lives and their own loves and it makes the invitation to everybody to see the Scrooge in themselves and to change. The cleverness to it is that, it has the spirit of Christmas around it, so it’s not just that everybody has the potential to be miserable, but it also has this great celebration and wintery feel to it.
The story is around 180 years old, do you think the story still resonates today? The conversations that we have around the table in rehearsals are absolutely interlaced with what is happening in the world today, I mean I don’t know how many times Donald Trump has been brought up! Despite its age you could tell this story in modern dress and it wouldn’t seem out of place. It also has that kind of chocolate box, Dickensian thing; not that they’ve gone that way with it…
I was going to ask you that, half of me is hoping for that nostalgic Victoriana loveliness, is that not what we’re getting? I’m not going to give too much away but I have to tell you that when Michael Taylor, the show’s designer, showed us the model of the set he got a standing ovation! It really is a genius design, a fantastic atmospheric thing going on and we’ve got the head of the magic circle working on the show as so there is literally going to be real magic! And of course, there is all those extraordinary opulent imagery that Dickens provides to do with Christmas Fayre, Food, Drink, Toys, Colours, Lights, all that stuff is going to be there.
One of the things I love about working with Nikolai Foster, the director, is his capacity for keeping it very real and dark when it needs to be. Without the dark you can’t have the light. So he will I’m sure, make certain that the whole show will be a real rollercoaster ride for the audience in terms of where we take you mentally, spiritually and emotionally all the time.
The ending of the first half, people are going to be coming out with tears in their eyes but not because it’s sad because it’s completely joyful and fabulous. The bar will be doing a roaring trade after that but only because everybody’s in a great mood, with tears of happiness and joy.
So get your pre interval orders in early! Absolutely, pints and pints of the milk of human kindness!
Scrooge is such an iconic character and he’s been played by so many real character actors such as Albert Finney, Alistair Sims and even Jim Carey. Have you tried to forget that those portrayals exist or is that just impossible to do? Oh I love it. I watch everything I can. I even tracked down the Tommy Steel soundtrack which is very hard to find. I love George C. Scott, I think he’s brilliant in terms of his truth and as much as I love Albert Finney, my sense was that he played him a little too literal, to be fair to him in that production, Dickens describes him as pinched and bent and with a little voice and I just thought I’m not doing that.
I think it will be more interesting for our times to be somebody who’s not that. I’m a magpie, I will steal anything that I think looks shiny, I’m trying to get a little bit of the George C. Scott movie in, a little bit of dialogue between the ghosts and Scrooge so hopefully we might find a place for that. I haven’t seen Alistair Sims yet, only because I’ve ran out of time. I watched a load of them last week.
He’s very vulnerable, Alistair Sim’s scrooge. He does add a different dimension. Well it’s a long journey that Scrooge goes on, you’ve got to start invulnerable and you’ve got to find a way of engaging with the audience still. I’ll take anything. When I was doing Richard III and it was directed by Brian Cox, not the science man the actor, and he said right we’re going to watch Olivier’s movie and I went, why? We’ll magpie a few bits and we did. I said but if we steal that people will know and he went oh no they won’t remember.
With such a well-known character do you think you have to give audiences elements of what they’ve seen before to keep them satisfied? It’s a curious thing; you always must make it fresh and give it new life but you’re dealing with the same material and it only lives in people’s memories so there is a collective subconscious of everything that has happened before which means that it can’t come from a completely new place.
You don’t come across as someone who is a grumpy, are you looking forward to playing Scrooge? I always play monstrous awful people, always. Yes, I mean I’m typecast. I can’t bear Christmas. I suppose this year I will feel very different about it. I mean New Year’s Eve is my worst. I suppose it depends on your family and what you’re doing and whether you’re working. As an actor if you’re not working at Christmas, it’s a miserable experience unless you are very well off.
Will you escape off anywhere on Christmas Day or will you stay in the city do you think? I don’t know quite what the plan is yet., I expect it will be just me and a candle!
Waiting for three ghosts? Yes, precisely. I really don’t know, our family is split up all over the place, Our Dad’s in Somerset, my sister lives near me so I’ll probably hook up with my sister.
If you were going to be visited by three ghosts, which one would you be most fearful of? The last one, it’s the scariest. I think it’s the one that tips Scrooge over the edge. He kind of ignores the ghost of Christmas past then the Ghost of Christmas present brings him to the edge of the abyss. I think he is not quite sure which way to go after the present goes and the future comes. He actually says you’re the one I fear most. I think all the ghosts will be frightening.
Scrooge The Musical runs from 18th November until 7th January. For tickets visit www.curveonline.co.uk or call the box office on 0116 242 3595