Festive family favourite as you've never seen it before ; A musical version of A Christmas Carol for families comes to Tunbridge Wells this December. Director Josh Sills tells Caroline Read about re-imagining the classic tale
In the 170 years since it was first published, A Christmas Carol has been one of our best-loved Christmas tales. Charles Dickens's story captured our imaginations so much that stage, TV and film version are almost too numerous to count. After all, when The Muppets make a version of your story, you really know you've made it.
This Christmas a completely original musical version of the Victorian tale comes to the Assembly Hall.
Created by Talkwood Productions, who specialise in magical Christmas shows, it's A Christmas Carol as you've never seen it before, complete with original songs.
Festive Director Josh Sills explains why Talkwood have taken on this festive family favourite.
"Myself and my business partner Tom Barton formed the company in 2008," he says. "We started doing our own in-house adaptations of well-known stories as Christmas shows.
"We've done The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, Alice In Wonderland, Around The World In 80 Days and a version of A Christmas Carol that we're touring with again this year."
The idea was to create musical adaptations of timeless stories to serve as an alternative to pantomime. The company began with small tours of village halls but has quickly progressed to cover more dates at much bigger venues. After this year's tour, their production goes on to a three-week run at Charing Cross Theatre in London.
"Obviously the book is Charles Dickens," says Josh. "But the script adaptation and all the music and lyrics have all been done in- house by us and our team of people.
"It's been done in a way to appeal to all ages; to a family audience. The music is easy to listen to and we've gone for a style that has quite a Disney feel. We're trying to make sure everyone can enjoy it."
It's a story that's familiar to most people. Re-imagining something so well known must be challenging to say the least.
"There are a lot of adaptations; there are a lot of versions of it out there. We just felt that there wasn't a musical version that captured the magic of it, the feeling of Christmas spirit.
"We've tried to do something of high production value and also something that is good, old-fashioned entertainment at Christmas." Josh hopes that although people can be very attached to something as cherished as A Christmas Carol, their version will also appeal to purists. The story sticks entirely to that of the original book and much of the dialogue is lifted straight from Dickens' own words. Everything that people will expect from the tale is there, just with some extra musical scenes - which Josh hopes will add to its magic.
"We even include a brief section of the book where the figures of Want and Ignorance appear as child-like creatures just before Scrooge goes forward into Christmas future," says Josh. "It's one of my favourite bits because it's quite dramatic and it's very exciting but it's often left out. It's a tiny detail but I think it's important to include it really." Something Josh is really proud of is the effect they're using for the ghost of Christmas future.
"A lot of versions have used a grim reaper figure but we're using a special effect. It's basically a fabric that you can create different shapes in. So the actors use it to make several shapes and it works well in that it means the ghost can move about without the audience seeing it move. It appears in different places around the stage and it works really well.
Excited "We've had some brilliant comments from audiences who have seen the effect on stage and I'm really excited to bring it to Tunbridge Wells."
The production, despite being offered as an alternative to pantomime, has themes that very small children might find frightening. It is, of course, a ghost story. Therefore Talkwood are recommending it for children aged eight and over.
"We have children in the cast as young as seven actually," says Josh. "We have two teams of children working on the tour and that's quite a logistical nightmare. They do four shows on and four shows off and they're touring round with the productions. "But I find that having children in the show really adds to the magic of it.
"What's really exciting to us is creating some magic on stage at this time of year."
Details Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells on December 8 at 4.30pm. Tickets Pounds 19.50 from assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk or 01892 530613.
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