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The Chimes - St John’s Church in Waterloo

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THIS Christmas, a new musical, site-specific production of Charles Dickens’ The Chimes plays at St John’s Church in Cardiff from December 7 to December 16 and St John’s Church in Waterloo from December 19 to December 30, 2017.

Inspired by the biting wit and moral outrage of Dickens’ 1844 novel, and prompted by the harsh realities of poverty in 21st-century Britain, The Chimes is directed and produced by Judith Roberts, written by David Willis, composed by Conor Linehan, and presented in partnership with Chapter arts centre.

The Chimes will combine a cast of eight professional actors with ensemble companies drawn from homeless communities in Cardiff and London.

The creative team have been working with three of the country’s leading homeless charities – The Passage in London, and The Wallich and The Huggard in Cardiff – since early September, offering weekly drama workshops to men and women who found themselves homeless. The two ensemble companies have now been cast from participants in these workshops.

Following the success of A Christmas Carol, Dickens continued to write a seasonal story each year for the next 25 years. His second was The Chimes, written in the middle of the ‘Hungry Forties’ as famine swept through Ireland, the Chartists led strikes and riots across Britain, and London was blighted with desperate poverty and prostitution.

The purpose of the book was to strike a real blow for the poor and to force the middle classes to sit up and pay attention – more of a protest song than a carol.

This new adaptation of The Chimes for the stage draws explicit parallels between Dickens’ world and contemporary experiences of class, hunger and poverty in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and in the context of the new iniquities and inefficiencies of the universal credit system.

Director Judith Roberts said: “We began by asking ourselves ‘what might Dickens think of Britain in 2017, and what would he want us to do about it?’ We’re not politicians, we’re theatre makers, so we felt we should do what we know best: invite men and women who know first-hand how hard it is to rebuild your life when you’ve become homeless to help us share that experience with audiences, and create a warm, witty, seasonal show which has been inspired by the insight and satire of Charles Dickens and captures the true spirit of Christmas.”

A client of The Wallich and participant in The Chimes said: “When I look back, only eight months ago I was sleeping rough and I’d given up all hope of living…I’m not in that place now…I’m in a place where I feel I’ve got some purpose in life. I thought that was all over…and all my dreams and aspirations had gone with it. This has given me the ability to dream again.”

The Chimes was the story Dickens wanted “to be longest remembered for”. It is the story of Trotty, a man thoroughly brow-beaten by all the rich, pompous do-gooders he encounters, who has lost his faith in humanity and believes that his poverty is the result of his own unworthiness.

On New Year’s Eve, Trotty is cast into gloom by reports of crime and immorality in the newspapers and by his own inability to settle his debts or feed his daughter.

He seeks solace in the bellchamber of his local church, where the goblins and spirits of the chimes undertake to show the depths of despair to which his own family might sink in a world without faith; they teach him that we must trust and hope and never doubt the good in one another. He learns his lesson just in time for the chimes to ring in the New Year and return his family and friends to him.

On publication, The Chimes sold 20,000 copies in under a month and sparked huge debate and controversy. Though now one of his less well-known works, it was the book that Dickens hoped “to be longest remembered for”.

The Chimes stars Matthew Jure as Trotty and Lucy Benson-Brown as Meg.

Matthew Jure is best known for his TV roles in the BBC1 series Waking The Dead and The Great Train Robbery, opposite Jim Broadbent. He has also appeared in Downton Abbey and in the Sky and Canal+ Anglo-French crime drama The Tunnel with Clémence Poésy. Recent work includes the Raindance-nominated (Best British Feature Film) God’s Acre.

Lucy Benson-Brown is an actor and writer whose previous stage credits include Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann (Royal Exchange Bruntwood Competition) and Platform by Duncan MacMillan and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm (Old Vic Tunnels/Frantic Assembly). In 2014, she wrote and produced a one-woman show Cutting Off Kate Bush, which enjoyed a sell-out run in Edinburgh before transferring to Paines Plough’s Roundabout and to the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast.

Completing the cast of The Chimes are Gruffydd Evans (as Richard), Fergus Rees (Will Fern/Mr Filer), Olivia Rose Aaron (Lillian), Rhys Parry Jones (Sir Terry Blarney/Mr Chickenstalker/Mr Feeder), Joanna Brookes (Lady Blarney/Mrs Chickenstalker) and Dafydd Emyr (Alderman Cute/Narrator 1).

They are joined by an ensemble of men and women who have been homeless and are rebuilding their lives with the support of The Wallich, the Huggard, The Passage and St Mungo’s.

Tickets for London are available online at www.ticketsource.co.uk/the-chimes. Ten tickets free of charge will be available at every performance to those experiencing homelessness.

Time: 7.30pm.

Running time:Approximately 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.