Caro Meets Children's Show Interview Theatre Interview

Geoff Aymer: Scroogelicious

By | Published on Sunday 27 November 2022

Regular readers must surely know by now what a soft spot we have for the works of Charles Dickens – in particular ‘A Christmas Carol’ – for we’re always talking about the staged adaptations of it that inevitably open during the winter months. 

One of this year’s productions, being staged at Theatre Peckham, has been adapted by the talented Geoff Aymer, who, incidentally, also adapted the venue’s 2021 Christmas show ‘The Wonderful’. 

Geoff’s version of the classic tale is very much set in the present and deals with contemporary issues, while retaining the heart of the original themes, and also includes music composed by Jordan Xavier.

I spoke to Geoff to find out more about the show.

CM: I expect most, if not all, of our readers will have heard of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and be familiar with its story and message. But what is your version like? How similar is it to the original and what does it do differently?
GA: My version is a 21st Century take on the original. It examines whether or not we still have people like Ebeneezer Scrooge around today and what that means for modern society.

The Scrooge in this tale is considerably younger than in the original, but is still motivated by the same greed, selfishness and dedication to material gain as in the original story.

He still looks unfavourably on Christmas, as per the original tale, though he does admire the commercialism behind it and wishes he’d thought up that kind of scheme himself. 

The other element which is slightly different is that – in the original story – Scrooge’s curmudgeonly nature is seen to have consequences mainly for himself and those immediately within his social circle, for example Tiny Tim.

Whereas in this story, because of his desire to completely gentrify Peckham, there are potentially catastrophic consequences for the larger community as well if he doesn’t see the error of his ways.

CM: What themes does your adaptation focus on?
GA: Greed, selfishness and the consequences of that. I set out to show that our actions don’t just impact on ourselves, but also those around us, be it family, friends or the wider community.

It also examines the importance of showing empathy and compassion and ultimately that there can be redemption even after straying down a destructive path.

CM: Can you tell us what to expect from the musical elements?
GA: An eclectic selection of music. There’s a bit of everything: traditional musical theatre; old style music hall stuff; funk; a bit of old school soca; a bit of bashment/reggae/dancehall; hip hop; and an R&B style tune.

CM: Do you think the story has extra relevance at the moment, given the current economic climate?
GA: Most definitely. I read an article in The Guardian recently that said there are something like nine productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ set to hit the stage this Christmas.

I had no idea there would be this many when I started writing this back in March, but I think it’s no coincidence given the current socio-economic climate, that theatres have seized on an opportunity to re-tell this story.

When one looks at the extreme level of homelessness; the proliferation of food banks along with a spike in child hunger statistics; people really struggling to pay bills etc; it feels as though we’ve gone back to Dickensian times.

It also feels as though a culture of selfishness and lack of empathy is being actively encouraged by political leaders and sections of the media alike.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the process of adapting a show like this?
GA: I had to spend quite a bit of time reading up on the original source material, so I could familiarise myself with the major bullet points and themes of it. I also watched a few film adaptations of the original to see how much creative leeway had been taken with it previously.

From there, I simply infused it with what I wanted to say, and how I felt this would read for a modern day audience, especially as a significant section of that audience will be young people. Ensuring that there were “teachable” moments throughout the story was paramount in this regard.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast and other creatives involved in bringing the show together?
GA: In terms of the cast, there will be 26 young people involved: two teams of thirteen, age range eight to fifteen. I worked with a number of these young folk on last year’s Theatre Peckham Christmas show and I can tell you there’s some real burgeoning talent among them. 

There are also five adult professional actors who’ve recently joined the team. KM Drew Boateng will be playing the lead role of Ebony Scrooge, a late 30s, uber-capitalist slum landlord and property developer.

I previously worked with KM on ‘The Color Purple’ musical a few years back, and upon completion of the first draft of this, back around Easter, his was the first name that popped in to my head as someone who would be suitable for the role, so there is added satisfaction on my part that his audition for the role was successful. 

The creative team were all involved in last year’s Christmas show, so they’ve all got a proven track record. Jordan Xavier composed the music for the songs; Ben Christopher is the musical director who’s knitted all of my and Jordan’s songs together; Christopher Tendai is the choreographer for the musical set pieces; and Emma Wee has designed the set and costumes.

And overseeing the whole thing as director we have commander-in-chief of Theatre Peckham, Suzann McLean.

CM: Have you been involved with the ongoing production?
GA: Only as far as any serious re-writes that are needed. Once it’s written, I hand it over to the rest of the creative team and cast and they build on the foundation I’ve given them.

I would have liked to sit in on some of the rehearsals, as it’s fun to watch what actors make of your work as a writer, but I’ve been busy elsewhere.

So I have only had time to sit in on one early rehearsal with the young company and a Zoom meeting to hear the initial read through of the script with the adult cast.

CM: We spoke to you around this time last year about ‘The Wonderful’, which was the first thing you had written for a while. What have you been up to in the meantime?
GA: This past year has been very productive and for that I am extremely grateful, given the fickle nature of this business.

I have performed in four stage productions more or less back to back, including the current one –  ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ – which has just opened at The Curve Theatre in Leicester. I’ll be in that til early/mid January. 

A particular high point was performing at the Old Vic for the first time back in June/July in an August Wilson play, ‘Jitney’, which then went on a mini-tour.

I also dramaturged and did some of the co-writing for a very interesting piece at Theatre Peckham this summe, called ‘Men-TALL’. It was a really thoughtful piece about what it really means to be masculine in today’s society.

CM: What aims and hopes do you have for the coming year?
GA: I think at some point over the coming weeks, Suzann and I may sit down and discuss what next year’s Theatre Peckham Christmas show will be.

And there are a few other writing projects that I may be involved with over the next few months also, but those are mostly in the talking stage, so there’s nothing concrete just yet to report on.

As far as acting projects go, there’s nothing yet on the horizon but it’s early days – ’The Wizard Of Oz’ has only just opened and I’ve got two whole months of that on my plate.

CM: Do you like Christmas – or do you relate to Scrooge? What does the festive season hold for you?
GA: I like Christmas and I always have. For me it’s about spending that extra bit of quality time with loved ones, though I have on a few occasions spent Christmas alone.

However, even on those occasions, there’s a feel-good factor about the day and I do enjoy many of the songs and carols of the festive season.

‘Scroogelicious’ is on at Theatre Peckham from 1-23 Dec. For all the details and to book tickets see the venue website here.

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