WHO is your favourite Scrooge? Albert Finney? Tim Curry? Patrick Stewart? George C Scott? Lionel Barrymore on the radio?
Maybe Michael Caine in The Muppets’ Christmas Carol? Jim Carrey? Or how about Jim Backus as the voice of Mister Magoo in Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, or even Bill Murray’s Frank Cross in Scrooged?
Mark Hird, who plays Scrooge from tomorrow (November 26) in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Scrooge The Musical at the Grand Opera House, York, has no hesitation in picking Alastair Sim from Brian Desmond Hurst’s 1951 film, Scrooge.
“I loved his performance! He was unashamedly nasty, but there was something in his eyes, that glint, that made you think there’s something going on there,” says Mark, who is leading Robert Readman’s cast, fresh from directing this autumn’s Pick Me Up musical, Monster Makers, at 41 Monkgate.
He now adds Charles Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge to a diverse Pick Me Up CV that includes Captain Mainwaring inDad’s Army, Colonel Pickering inMy Fair Lady and Uncle Fester in The Addams Family, and he is particularly enjoying performing the songs in Leslie Bricusse’s musical.
“The songs really help in bringing out Scrooge’s thoughts, whether in the 1970 film musical with Albert Finney or the stage version with six extra songs. You discover new things every time you do it.” says Mark.
“I’ve had the chance to play some really cold, nasty characters: there’s nothing redeemable about Inspector Wormold in Betty Blue Eyes or The Beadle in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, but, on the other side, I also get to play all the ridiculously loveable characters, like Captain Mainwaring, Uncle Fester and Colonel Pickering.
“So, in many ways, Scrooge is more interesting because he goes on a journey from one to the other, and it’s really fun as an actor to make that transition, but also not to make him black and white. There are reasons in his past for some of the things he’s doing.”
Time for a quick refresher course: based on Dickens’s Victorian cautionary tale A Christmas Carol, Scrooge tells the tale of old miser Ebenezer Scrooge on the night he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come. Here that tale is told in an “all-singing, all-dancing, all-flying” show.
All-flying, Mark? “Yes, we have some flying in this show. Scrooge has to fly with Rory Mulvihill’s Ghost of Christmas Present, and Tony Froud’s Jacob Marley will float above the stage to sing his big number,” says the Scotsman.
“I haven’t flown on stage before, but I’m not scared of heights. I love walking the hills in Scotland.”
Joining Mark in the company will be Alan Park’s Bob Cratchit. “The advantage we have doing the show at the Grand Opera House, rather than our other home at 41 Micklegate, is that you can put on a big spectacle, but you can also have intimate scenes too, such as Cratchit and Tiny Tim’s scenes,” says Alan.
“But the experience of performing at 41 Micklegate develops that intimate form of acting, which you can then take into the bigger theatre,” says Mark.
He and Park see the contemporary resonance in Dickens’s story. “It’s amazing to look back at the impact Dickens’s book had on politicians, as well as general readers, concerning the inequality of working conditions for the working classes, and the cruelty Cratchit faces. That strikes a chord today,” says Mark.
“Cratchit thinks ‘this is my lot; I will make the most of what I have’, and he sees Scrooge as alien to his world, because that’s how society is,” says Alan.
“No politician will change Scrooge, but the three Ghosts do have an impact, which makes him change himself.
“But what’s more depressing is that if A Christmas Carol were to be played out in modern times, I’m not sure there would be sympathy for the Bob Cratchits of this world.”
“Maybe we need another Dickens for this age,” says Mark. “If the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come brought Dickens to 2019, I think he would be horrified.”
“You could argue that we need the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come to visit some of our politicians right now,” says Alan, as the winter-of-discontent General Election fast approaches.
Pick Me Up Theatre’s Scrooge The Musical runs from Tuesday, November 26 to Sunday, December 1 at Grand Opera House, York. Performances: 7.30pm, Tuesday to Sunday; 2.30pm, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.