As I step outside my Falmer flat, I am greeted by winter weather Dickens would surely approve of, the perfect and most applicable set up as Brighton University’s Drama Society rehearse for A Christmas Carol, showing on the 2nd and 3rd December at the Marlborough Theatre.
“External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.”
While it hadn’t snowed – something I’m grateful for – I ploughed through the bitter wind and pelting rain to attend rehearsal and see how the performance had evolved from my last attendance several weeks ago.
I am a member of BUDS, something I didn’t expect to be when I attended Freshers’ Fair. My initial thought was that drama was a little too outgoing for me although when I approached the booth, curiosity leading me out of my depths, the committee members there persuaded me to sign up. It’s amazing to see those same people and the fresh faces who signed up with me suddenly transform into a family in a little over two months.
On a Tuesday and Thursday night, once you walk into the Mayfield House Theatre, there is an overwhelming chill, relaxed and comedic atmosphere. People laze on chairs, huddled groups chat, sometimes a funny YouTube video plays and sometimes a game is going. “Right everyone, get in a circle,” is the usual line from Jordan, this year’s BUDS president, that kicks everyone up into action. Today though, there is less talk and more frenzied whispering of lines, some scripts falling apart in hands and on the floor after weeks of use. Jordan doesn’t need to tell anyone to move. Few have already begun to set up the scene and some wait about for his direction.
No games today, straight into Act One.
My immediate thought on the night was that I loved the casting for Scrooge. Nathaniel easily controls the balance between story book villain and crazed old man as he squeezes in a rough cough or a Victorian-esque stutter of frustration, barking his annoyance at the gentlewomen and pausing occasionally to recollect himself before releasing his unbridled rage. Nathaniel highlights this as he tells me after that it’s this “good contrast” that allows him to enjoy playing the character as “more emotions means more to act with.” Reading through the script and not watching the stage amplifies the effect; many a time, I hear “Humbug!” cried out and it’s easy to forget that it’s just Nathaniel, not an indignant middle class old man who’d just wandered in, shaking his fist.
One of my favourite scenes is the meeting between Marley and Scrooge. Saif, who plays Marley, is only on stage for a short amount of time yet he is probably the character that shocks me the most, switching from ghostly calm to shrieking phantom in a matter of seconds, swaying constantly with his arms low by his sides, addressing the audience occasionally, leaving me unnerved when I caught his eye. I’m surprised to hear from Saif that it’s his first time playing a character so “unhinged and insane” as it’s his acting that flawlessly sets up the night’s performance. Sadie, as the First Spirit, brings an innocent and eerie phantasmal approach to the character; Mary as the Second Spirit, joyously laughs upon entrance and is constantly whimsical throughout; Veronica as the mute Third Spirit is unearthly and ghoulish, donned in head-to-toe black. It’s borderline Halloween horror and Christmas cheer.
Fluidly the actors shift from sitting to standing in the wings, waiting for their scene to start. The Cratchit children, Laura, Courtney, Edd, Joanna and Jack prepare the stage with direction from Mrs Cratchit, Sophie, all acting similar to their fictional counterparts. Again the casting here is superb. They seem like a true family and as a group, their chemistry and friendship is crystal clear. Both Josh and Sophie, who play Mr and Mrs Cratchit, pointed out that being in a group allows you to “bond” easier and it’s this domestic aspect that draws them to their characters. It would seem both couples work together tremendously: Mr and Mrs Cratchit cutely displaying their affection and guiding their children with a thoughtful and careful grace while Mr and Mrs Fezziwig, played by Rob and Morgan, outlandishly and hilariously parade their love on stage, affectionately calling each other ‘husband” and “’wife”, coyly smiling and taking every opportunity to share how much they adore the other. It’s easy to cast couples, but to cast actors with great chemistry also is a feat that BUDS have achieved twice. Rob and Morgan tell me that it’s a pleasure working with the other -“it’s not awkward at all;” Morgan goes on to say that acting as Mrs Fezziwig has allowed her to “solidify friendships.”
This is the archetypal Christmas play, a show people will wade out into the wintery weather for, and they will sit and watch and laugh and cry. Families will come, children will wriggle in seats and parents will sit shoulder to shoulder with their kids, some who’ve just started school, some at university and some cradling babies of their own. It’s the first Christmas show they’ve seen this year and they are expecting seasonal magic.
Jordan says it was his goal to deliver “a classic, minimalist Christmas play.” From the performances I’ve witnessed to the answers I’ve received, it is unquestionable that this play will be golden because the Cratchits are not the only close family on stage. At a BUDS play, you are not just enjoying a show but witnessing a showmanship in friendship.
So, head to the Marlborough Theatre, settle in your seat, be among that audience of family and festivity and as the curtains rise, lose yourself in an age old tale of morals and love and change of heart.
“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”
By Erin Louise Harrison
Directed by Jordan Lewis
Produced by Brighton University’s Drama Society
Tech by Ben Mehmed & the BUDS Tech Team
Originally Written by Charles Dickens
Adapted by A.D. Hasselbring
Scrooge – Nathaniel Lawford
Marley – Saif Siddiqui
Fred – Lucie Treharne
First Spirit – Sadie Leigh Hudson
Second Spirit – Mary Boothman
Third Spirit – Veronica Liptrot
Mr Fezziwig – Rob Dan
Mrs Fezziwig – Morgan Dawe
Young Scrooge – Flo Murray
Belle – Cat Bass
Mr Cratchit – Josh Stead
Mrs Cratchit – Sophie Ziegler
Mary Cratchit – Courtney Lake
Peter Cratchit – Edd Sankari
Belinda Cratchit – Joanna Clayton-Smith
Thomas Cratchit – Jack Nolan
Martha Cratchit – Laura Pena-Marquez
Tiny Tim – Sophie Miraftab
Jaden Byron Carter
Leah Pezzetti Horner