Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Alexander Knott: Cratchit

By | Published on Friday 3 December 2021

I make no secret of my love of Dickens and ‘A Christmas Carol’, which I’ve read countless times. It means I also love any and all theatrical adaptations of the well loved story, and am always on the lookout for new ones.

The latest to catch my eye was ‘Cratchit’ at the Park Theatre, starring John Dagleish, which I want to call a ‘spin off’, rather than an adaptation, as I think that conveys more accurately what you should expect from this show.

I thought it would be good to find out more, though, so you can be sure of what’s in store when you go to see it. To that end, I spoke to writer and director Alexander Knott.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the narrative of the show? Many readers will of course be familiar with the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’, but this is slightly different, obviously.
AK: The initial notion was to tell the story of the Dickens classic from Bob Cratchit’s point of view. He’s an affable fella in the original novella, and even though he’s hard done by and overworked by Scrooge, he still manages to have a smile on his face. My contention is that underneath that painted smile, Bob must be seething inside.

Add to that idea the notion of the spirits of Christmas visiting many more people than just one old miser on that Dickensian Christmas Eve, and we have a sort of ‘Cratchit’s Christmas Carol’. This is a show with elements of the story you’ll know – but also a brand new play, with loads you won’t see coming! You won’t have seen a ‘Carol’ like it.

CM: What did you hope to achieve by approaching the story this way? What themes have you explored through it?
AK: After such a difficult eighteen months, with the gap between rich and poor growing ever wider, and seemingly uncaring or incompetent governments at the helm, it felt right to show Bob Cratchit as a real human being, not a ruddy cheeked, happy go lucky figure. A man with debts, mouths to feed, and much on his mind.

Basically, bringing the real world to what can often be a story with a sepia glow. There’s themes of fortitude in the face of hardship in there – but, ultimately, crucially it is still Christmas! There’s humour and a wry smile at the heart of John Dagleish’s performance as Bob, and though things get plenty dark and weird, Bob, and the audience, can still look forward to the warmth and hope of Christmas.

CM: So, would you say this retelling is darker than Dickens’ story? Is there still hope in it?
AK: The original is pretty dark! Some versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ lean in to Marley’s gaping, broken jaw falling onto his chest, or the wraith child-like figures of Ignorance and Want. So there’s nods to the ghost story and even the horror story in our version.

But Bob is a warmer figure than Old Scrooge from the beginning, so our audience will have a warm and funny narrator to guide them through. As for a hopeful ending – yes, perhaps, but you’ll need to come and see it to find out!

CM: What inspired you to write this?
AK: I’ve always loved the Dickens original, and inhale all the versions I can. The Old Vic production is a modern classic, and you can’t beat the Muppets! But there’s never been a version from Bob’s point of view. He’s both the everyman, and a very specific figure of endurance and hope. Even though he’s not got a huge role in the original, he lives in our collective consciousness and our idea of Christmas. I felt he was due an expansion, an exploration, and to let him say his piece – particularly as he’s got so much to say that’s relevant for 2021.

CM: The show was first produced under the name ‘December’ and staged digitally. Has the play itself changed since then?
AK: This year’s version is an expansion, but it’s certainly the same play. The ghosts of Christmas have more to say for themselves, and Scrooge and indeed, Marley, are given more of their due, and this reworked version involves some of the more theatrical elements of storytelling that we couldn’t achieve with a camera.

As much as I’ve loved exploring film and theatre hybrid productions in the last year, this feels like a return to fireside storytelling, but with many surprises too.

CM: Can we talk about you now? How did you come to be working in theatre? Was it the path you always planned to take?
AK: I trained as an actor at Italia Conti, and that was the path I’d always intended to go down. It was also where I met many of my collaborators, who I continue to create theatre and film with – several of them on this production.

Conti is about acting training, but at the time we all went there, it was very much an inter-disciplinary experience in improvising, devising, directing, writing – so all-round theatre making training, and it was utterly invaluable. Since graduating, I was determined never to wait by the phone, and my two theatre companies, Bag Of Beard and BoxLess Theatre, have been running for five years.

I’ve also worked in theatres across London as a producer and Artistic Director. As long as I’ve got something on the go, I’m happy.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
AK: Every project has felt unique and different, so that almost feels like a highlight in itself.

But ‘Private Peaceful’, BoxLess Theatre’s reimagining of Michael Morpurgo’s modern classic, took a monologue script and turned it into a very physical two-hander, with live music. It seemed to capture the imagination of audiences, and has been performed outdoors, indoors, transferred to the Bristol Old Vic, and was due to reopen London’s West End during COVID at the Garrick Theatre, before being captured cinematically and released internationally.

Alongside that, David Spencer’s harrowing anti-war play ‘Buried’ at the Tristan Bates Theatre and the Old Red Lion, I am immensely proud of my work on. I hope both those shows will come back, possibly next year.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
AK: Bag Of Beard has a devised psychological thriller coming to Vault Festival in February – ‘The Messiah Complex’, set in a world where faith is banned. Beyond that, a telling of the invention of the hot air balloon, with female performers as the inventors, the Montgolfier Brothers, with physical theatre and live music.

Long term aims, I would in time like to return to programming and running a building, but the company’s calendars are looking full for a while, which is a very lucky position to be in.

CM: Are you a Scrooge, or are you looking forward to Christmas?
AK: I LOVE Christmas. I could scarcely love it more. I love everything about it – except Brussels sprouts and that Slade song with the shouting. But very much not a Scrooge.

‘Cratchit’ is on at Park Theatre from 7 Dec-8 Jan. See this page here for more information and to book.

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Photo: Charles Flint Photography