The Chimes, an adaptation by David Willis and Conor Linehan
Having walked along the Southbank, mulled wine in hand, I had no idea about how I was about to be changed by an extremely powerful piece of political theatre but more importantly relevant political theatre! Upon entering St John’s Church, Waterloo, expecting to see a congregational theatre set up, I was immediately captivated or captured by the world in which I had been invited. A simple yet focussed performance space was encouraged in the traverse with subtle hints reminding us of the Dickensian time period of the narrative. However, director Judith Roberts’ vision did more than visually encompass us in what we were about to experience. Through the use of integrated recordings of various political speeches we were subconsciously being alienated by the waffle in which we were hearing; barely audible over the power of the organ making the point that a lot of these times they aren’t even worth hearing!
Dickens’ second Christmas Story, after the infamous Christmas Carol, took a somewhat subtler route to reminding us of the dangers of neglect at Christmas. The supernatural element of the unknown still occurred in the form of teaching the protagonist; Trotty, sincerely played be Matthew Jure, a well-deserved lesson in valuing family and friends and appreciating time. The first act, with creative use of ensemble and simple, yet effective, mise en scène, took us on a powerful journey into the impoverished life of Trotty and his daughter Meg as they struggle to survive the harsh reality of London in 1844. We quickly arrive at the rising action as Trotty is caught eating Tripe, which is being rationed to women and children only, despite it being a gift from his daughter Meg – Alderman Cute, a rich gentleman, and his cult, threateningly warn Trotty and menacingly show interest in his daughter who he holds most dear; too dear to let her marry her honest, hard working courter, Richard.
Through this powerful first act, Trotty is constantly drawn towards the bells which were made for the production by Nigel Shepard from recycled aluminium scaffold poles which really resonated with me in that it makes a clear point to commercialised theatres and productions within the UK that you don’t need to spend millions in order to create a captivating story which can still create a spectacle and change an audience! The week before I took my foster brother to see a Christmas Pantomime at a local theatre and was astounded by the money that had gone into making the show entertaining and at the end when asked for donations I couldn’t help but think: if this production had never been created and all the money for resources had been donated straight to charity, yes there would have been no entertainment for children which ironically coincides with the point for this production (teaching us of the necessity for sharing Christmas) but it also would have made a massive impact in changing many lives as opposed to the huge salaries of the actors and reluctant donations of the public as they realise they still haven’t paid for parking.
Despite this production being a partnership with the homeless charity The Passage, the standard of acting was so high that there were very few moments where I wasn’t flawlessly following the story and those times were not due to the actions of the ensemble from The Passage! This was especially clear in the ensemble numbers – the connection to the text and through line of the action was incredibly clear by the likes of John Watts, Joy Aaron, Allissa Christie, Hanna Kaley, Pixie Maddison and Yvonne Wickham, who all played various characters in aiding the narrative, however it was the sincerity by which they shared this powerful story with us which made me feel changed when I left the theatre and made me think about the injustice of the way we often perceive someone who is homeless. Disregarding simple human values and giving the hard shoulder whether it be because we think they got what they deserved or because we think they are cheating us of our charity. More often this is not the case and we are blinded by our thoughts when we should be treating all people homeless or not with the same respect!
Further information on the production can be found at the link.