Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Michael Kingsbury: Reviving ‘Christmas’

By | Published on Tuesday 25 November 2014

I love Christmas, me, so any show with the word Christmas in the name is bound to grab my attention (watch out for further Christmassy chats over the coming weeks). Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this play is something twee and magical, however; renowned playwright Simon Stephens’ play is a story of hope, disappointment, the abandonment of dreams… happily, delivered via the medium of sharply funny dialogue.


‘Christmas’ was first staged early on in the writer’s career, and hasn’t really been seen since then, but is now being revived for a month long run at the White Bear. To find out more about the show, and his reasons for bringing the piece back to life, I put some questions to director, Michael Kingsbury.

CM: Can you tell us what ‘Christmas’ is about? What themes does it explore?
MK: It is set in an East-End pub at Christmas and explores the lives and obsessions of four souls in the city at Christmas time… The play is full of humour and pathos, and is wonderfully absurd.

CM: The play was first performed in 2004, wasn’t it? Has it been performed since then?
MK: It has been revived in Germany but our production is the first London revival in ten years. I like to think of it as a lost gem!

CM: What attracted you to the play and made you want to revive it?
MK: I was attracted by the characters and the quality of the writing and the way it explores their hidden obsessions. It looks at the need to connect and tell stories in order to heal and ameliorate our sense of loss. Simon’s play achieves this through sharp, scathingly humorous dialogue that is a joy to work on. I also love the absurdist elements in the piece where the action is punctuated by a series of mysterious punters who perform magic tricks! It was really good to meet up and discuss the play with Simon and to have him come in to rehearsals.

CM: How important do you think it is that we revisit the earlier works of successful playwrights?
MK: I think it is important to re-visit the work of successful playwrights. In this case it’s worth reviving because it’s well written but also because it was written at a time when property development in the east-end was starting to intensify and become too expensive for local people . Working class pubs were also bought and either knocked down or turned into gastro bars. The play explores the effect this has on ordinary people in terms of their sense of abandonment and alienation which doesn’t sound like much fun but actually Simon makes it incredibly humorous.

CM: Can you tell us about the cast?
MK: We have assembled a strong cast including Lionel Guyett, whose fifty year career has included work at the RSC and National, off-West-End best actor nominee Ralph Aiken, William Ely, whose extensive credits include work at Theatre Royal York and the Soho Theatre, and James Groom, who has just finished ‘Outlander’ for Sony Pictures.

CM: You are artistic director of Spellbound Productions. Can you tell us something about the company and its aims?
MK: Spellbounds productions aims to produce new plays and lost classics . We recently produced ‘In Lambeth’ by Jack Shepherd in the main house at Southwark playhouse, and co-produced a number one tour of ‘Haunting Julia’ by Alan Ayckbourn. We are currently in production for my play ‘’, which opens at The Park 200 in January. Our aim is to develop dynamic new work, adaptations and lost classics for the off-West-End and touring market.

CM: You write plays as well, don’t you? Do you direct your own plays, or hand them over to someone else when they are finished…? How does the writing process compare to directing?
MK: I have directed my own work but prefer to hand it over to another director. We are delighted that Ian Brown – who ran West-Yorkshire Playhouse for ten years – is directing ‘’. The writing process is a much more instinctive, solitary affair, particularly in the early stages where you let people know you’re out of commission whilst you get on with it. The process becomes more collaborative during development readings and pre-production. As a director you are interpreting, shaping and realising the playwright’s vision.

CM: What’s next for you, and for Spellbound?
MK: Spellbound are in pre-production for ‘’, and developing new projects for next year.

‘Christmas’ is on at White Bear Theatre from 25 Nov – 21 Dec. See this page here for information and tickets.

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