Christmas – a time to reflect but also to rejoice

We’re celebrating Christmas and the drawing to an end of a tumultuous year (off you go 2020) with a trip down memory lane. Exploring some of our favourite shows and exclusive images in partnership with the Freelancers Make Theatre Work Advent Calendar.

Words by John Schwab and Photography by Matt Humphrey.

A Christmas Carol

By Patrick Barlow, adapted from the Christmas story by Charles Dickens
Noël Coward Theatre

Bringing a hint of tongue-in-cheek comedic flair to Charles Dickens’s most famous story, Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol proved a festive family hit at the Noël Coward Theatre in 2015. Playing Scrooge was Jim Broadbent, with all the other roles from this Dickens classic story played by just four other actors and two puppeteers. The swift switches of costume, accent and gender were played to great comic effect, as where the mechanics of Tom Pye’s wickedly mischievous set, which combined the clever use of props with intentionally visible on-stage trickery (including a storybook-like revolve), all framed within an imposing faux theatre. Barlow’s focus on the process of storytelling, ;eaves the actors to seemingly improvise this much loved tale with whatever they had to hand.

Jim Broadbent (Ebenezer Scrooge) on stage – the wooden heads shown here, and used in the show, were carved by Jim himself.

‘We’ve got Jim Broadbent as the anchor in the middle of all this craziness.’

Samantha Spiro (Ghost of Christmas Present)
Ensemble members on stage pull Marley’s chains – taken from the fly floor.

‘It’s sort of rough theatre, but with a budget. The stage effects are very basin on the whole. But it makes it an accessible piece of theatre.’

Jim Broadbent (Ebenezer Scrooge)
Samantha Spiro (Mrs Lack) during a quick change with Melody Tatania Wood (Head of Wardrobe)
The puppet of young Scrooge sits in the wings.

‘It’s truly manic. I don’t think I’ve ever played this many characters and had this many costumes changes before. I’ve got fifteen quick changes in the show.’

Keir Charles (Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come)
Amelia Bullmore (Hermione Bentham) watching from the wings.

Elf – The Musical

Music and Lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin
Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin
Dominion Theatre

Based on the 2003 New Line Cinema film written by David Berenbaum, Elf sees Buddy, the orphan reared as a Christmas elf, returning once again to New York City in search of his birth father in this heart-warming seasonal musical. The show first premiered in 2010 on Broadway before transferring to the West End in 2015. It starred ITV’s Superstar Ben Forster as Buddy the Elf, in a performance universally praised by critics for its charm and vulnerability. Girls Aloud’s Kimberley Walsh played Jovie, Buddy’s department-store love interest. Elf was the fastest selling show since the Dominion Theatre opened in 1929, with crowds dran to its catchy, upbeat music, bright, projected backdrops, and family-freindly cheer. Director Morgan Young’s production was praised for its ability to tap into the spirit of Christmas and its sense of genuine, touching innocence.

Ben Forster (Buddy) and the Company on stage.

‘It’s the most iconic comedy Christmas character ever. It is scary. I was in two minds about the gig just because of that.’

Ben Forster (Buddy)
Mark McKerracher (Santa)
The cast on stage during the interval

‘This show gives you all of that Christmas showbiz extravaganza, but it also makes you swallow hard in places because is really touches you.’

Jennie Dale (Deb)
The Company of Elf – The Musical