REVIEW: Be Amazing Arts in A Christmas Carol, Malton Market Place, until Dec 24 ****

Quinn Richards, in top hat, and Jack Downey outside the former Green Man Inn in a scene from Be Amazing Arts’ A Christmas Carol in Malton Market Place

WHAT should lead off reasons to be cheerful for Malton’s inclusion in the Guardian’s guide to Twinkle Towns: Eight Great Places In The UK For A Festive Getaway but Charles Dickens’s 19th century connection with the North Yorkshire market town.

Dickens would visit his friend, lawyer Charles Smithson, whose Chancery Lane offices were the template for Ebenezer Scrooge’s counting room. He performed at Malton’s old theatre on his reading tours too, and Smithson’s widow received an 1844 signed copy of Dickens’s novel on Smithson’s untimely death at 39.

A plaque in Chancery Lane is all that remains of the now closed Scrooge and Marley Counting House/Dickens Museum, but characters based on Malton residents live on in assorted Dickens novels.

The Malton Dickensian Festival, Miriam Margolyes et al, celebrated Dickens’s books, and this winter Malton company Be Amazing Arts is mounting its third season of immersive promenade performances of A Christmas Carol, as highlighted in that Guardian feature on December 2 too.

Roxanna Klimaszewska, once of York company Six Lips Theatre, now creative director of Be Amazing Arts, has freshened up her adaptation, as she did last year, working in tandem with producer James Aconley once more.

Dropping into CharlesHutchPress’s email basket at 7.01am yesterday morning was a letter to “my dearest most valued reader” from the desk of Charles Dickens.

He wrote of his “great anticipation” of presenting a personal reading of his most recently published works: a felicitous visit that would serve as a festive event to “satisfy your hunger for a literary feast (or platter)”.

 It would be his last reading of the season, he wrote, “as I endeavour to direct my attention to my next creation”.  “Tonight, expect theatricals, as only an author who frequents  the theatre as much as I do, can offer,” he promised.

The Cratchit family playing Christmas games at The Cook’s Place in Be Amazing Arts’ A Christmas Carol

And so a full house – as will be the case for the rest of the run – gathered at Kemps Books, arriving early to avoid Dickens’s threat that “latecomers will be treated with disdain and hostility”.

It should be recorded that the welcome, from bookshop to The Cook’s Place, could not have been more civil. There to meet the night’s promenaders was Quinn Richards, resuming his role as Charles Dickens, narrator and guide, striking up a conversation with Jack Downey’s ever-enthusiastic Charles Smithson.

Rather than the expected reading from Martin Chuzzlewit, Richards’ red-suited Dickens finds himself compelled to introduce the story, theme and characters of his new Christmas ghost story”. “Another ghost story?”, questioned Smithson.  

Ah, but this one is A Christmas Carol, a story whose ghostly chill unfolds as if for the first time before our very eyes, countered by the reviving warmth of mulled wine (non-alcoholic, dear readers) part way through perambulations around the Market Place.

In the manner of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Richards will shape-shift between two distinct characters, but without reaching for the mind-altering medication, of course.

His Dickens is upright, loquacious, gregarious company, as he leads the way from shop to street to assorted empty premises. He even stops the two charity collectors (Beth Wright and Daisy Conlan) mid-sentence to re-write, improve, their words in an amusing interjection typical of Klimaszewska’s love of detail in the storytelling.

Later, Dickens will explain why he made the Ghost of Christmas Past a child (played by Team B’s blue-lit Ada Kirk last night in a role shared with Team A’s India Duffy).

Richards’ Scrooge is pinched of facial disposition, mannerism and vocal inflection, his demeanour stooped, his mien bleak midwinter bitter, sending away carol singers gathered outside Kemps.

Downey, meanwhile, is kept busy as Smithson; long-suffering but never-complaining office clerk Bob Cratchit; party host Fezziwig and the chain-clad spectre of former business Jacob Marley, dead these past seven years.

Roxanna Klimaszewska: Creative director of Be Amazing Arts

Marley is introduced in Klimaszewska’s adaptation as the face in the door knocker of what used to be the Green Man Inn. Once inside, the promenaders line the walls in the cold blue light as the chains rattle to herald the arrival of Downey’s Marley.

Children, selected from auditions but many associated already with Be Amazing Arts’ site-specific shows, accompany Marley’s words of foreboding with ghostly voices, then crawl across the floor on their knees in veils. Such haunting imagery will linger long in the memory.

Children are vital to this production, whether popping up in street cameos, serving drinks, or playing Cratchit’s children as the audience nibbles away at a platter of pies and cheese on a stick and sips a soupcon of soup at The Cook’s Place cookery school in Market Street.

Charlotte Wood, a familiar face from the York theatre circuit, makes her mark too, bursting into life in the welcome at Kemps, then delivering her stern Ghost of Christmas Present and feisty Mrs Cratchit.

From an empty shop to an opened upstairs window, Be Amazing Arts uses the street furniture of Malton to maximum impact, not least outside St Michael’s Church, where Tiny Tim and Scrooge’s gravestones of the imminent future are lit up: hazard warning lights, you could say.

All the while, the hooded, towering Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come hovers, disturbingly deathly and deadly silent, as the tick-tock of time signifies the rising urgency of Scrooge’s race against time to change from dark dyspepsia to enlightened benefactor by Christmas Day morning.

Klimaszewska rightly draws attention to Dickens’s symbolic children by the names of Ignorance and Want, resonating anew in our age of social ills, strikers’ dissent but shameful indifference from the suits, rising destitution and fathomless wealth, life-threatening health service waiting lists and cost-of-living despair.

The ending, as Dickens takes over once more from Scrooge at the Cratchits’ Christmas table, elicits a call for compassion and social responsibility: a sobering conclusion to a night of bracing, haunting, uplifting yet chilling theatre, at once moving and forever on the move, mince pie final boost et al.  

Be Amazing Arts in A Christmas Carol, Malton Market Place, December 21 and 23, 7pm; December 24, 5pm; all sold out. Box office to check last-minute ticket availability: 01653 917271 or

Darkness before the light: The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come arrives at the door with a nocturnal mission to be completed

Cast list for the night attended by CharlesHutchPress

Quinn Richards: Charles Dickens/Ebenezer Scrooge

Jack Downey:  Smithson/Bob Cratchit/Jacob Marley/Fezziwig

Charlotte Wood:  Mrs Cratchit/Ghost of Christmas Present

Noah Ashton:  Fred/Young Scrooge

Annie Dunbar: Belle

Jess Middlewood:  Belle’s Sister/Clara (role shared with Kathryn Thompson)

Dom Walker, Gentleman 2/Pawn Broker/Peter Cratchit

Beth Wright, Charity Collector 1; Daisy Conlan, Charity Collector 2

Amalie Waite: Woman 1/Belinda Cratchit/Gentleman 1 (role shared with Emily Brooksby)

Kelly Appleby: Woman 2/Martha Cratchit/Wife

Ada Kirk:  Ghost of Christmas Past (role shared with India Duffy)

Edward: Husband/Suit 3

Daisy May Davies, Matilda Grimmond and Celia Brass are sharing performances as Fanny/Belle’s Child/Want; Reuben Baines and Stan Richardson as Young Cratchit/Boy/Beggar/Carol Singer; Teddy Alexander and Jeremy Walker, Tiny Tim, and Isla Norry and Angelica O’Dwyer, Belle’s Child/Ignorance.

York Castle Museum reopens Kirkgate and Period Rooms today for Victorian Christmas season of activities and performances

Kirkgate at York Castle Museum: Reopening today for Victorian Christmas season. Picture: Anthony Chappel-Ross

YORK Castle Museum’s Victorian Kirkgate and Period Rooms reopen today with a fanfare to celebrate Christmas 2023.

The magical Yuletide experience promises activities for all ages, with “something to get everyone into the festive spirit”. 

Wandering through the Victorian street of Kirkgate as Christmas arrives with a sprinkling of festive snow on the historic cobbles, visitors can enjoy the street’s charming period trimmings and peek at historical decorations and objects from the museum’s collection in the shopfronts. 

On selected dates throughout the holiday season Chris Cade’s Ebenezer Scrooge will appear on Kirkgate. A family-friendly re-telling of Charles Dickens’s festive novel A Christmas Carol is included in the general admission ticket, while an after-hours Scrooge will return for adult-only evening performances at an additional cost.  

Chris Cade’s Ebenezer Scrooge: Performing A Christmas Carol during York Castle Museum’s Victorian Christmas season. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Look out too for Cade in An Evening With Scrooge at The Hospitium, Museum Gardens, York, from 6pm to 9pm on December 21, when a finger buffet will be followed by his one-man performance of Dickens’s Christmas tale of redemption, generosity and warm-hearted joy at 7.30pm, concluding with mulled wine and mince pies. Box office:

A Victorian green-clad Father Christmas will be on Kirkgate welcoming visitors every weekend throughout December until Christmas. The Father Christmas of that time was known for bringing jollity, talking of food, feasting, games, dancing and songs. Visitors will be welcome to join in and to make their own Christmas card. 

On Sundays, including Christmas Eve, the cobbles will ring to the sound of carol singers singing traditional songs to “bring smiles and warm hearts even on the coldest of days”. 

As well as experiencing the Christmas cheer on Kirkgate, visitors can step back in time as they stroll through the Period Rooms, from a 17th century dining room to a Victorian worker’s cottage. 

Story Craft Theatre’s Cassie Vallance, left, and Jane Bruce with their Museum Mice at York Castle Museum. Picture: Anthony Chappel-Ross

For younger children, Janet Bruce and Cassie Vallance’s Story Craft Theatre will bring cute Museum Mice to life with puppets, games and family fun, followed by a craft activity on several weekdays. 

The 2023 festive season will continue into “Betwixtmas’” with events running between December 27 and January 6 2024, when performances will share New Year traditions and there will be the opportunity to make a New Year’s card ready to welcome in 2024. 

This year’s Christmas offer is part of general admission to York Castle Museum, giving access to the museum, at the Eye of York, for 12 months.  

Victorian Christmas at York Castle Museum runs from today until January 7 2024, included in general admission. To book tickets:

Scrooge performances (A Christmas Carol):
December 9, 10, 16, 17, 18 and 23, four shows throughout the day, included in general admission.

A Christmas Carol, adult-only evening shows:

December 19, additional cost.

Father Christmas in Victorian green outside York Castle Museum. Picture: Anthony Chappel-Ross

Green-clad Father Christmas:
December 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24, four times a day. 

Story Craft Theatre’s Christmas tails from the Museum Mice and craft activities:
December 11, 13 and 20, 11am and 1pm.

Carol singers:
December 10, 17 and 24, several times throughout the day. 

Betwixtmas activities:
December 28, 30 and 31; January 2, 4 and 6, four times a day. 

York Castle Museum will close early at 3 pm on Christmas Eve and will be closed on December 25 and 26 December and January 1 2024, reopening on January 2. 

A festive scene in Kirkgate at York Castle Museum. Picture: Anthony Chappel-Ross

Why the north side of York Castle Museum was closed temporarily: the back story

YORK Museums Trust closed Kirkgate, the Period Rooms and Shaping the Body at York Castle Museum in September after RAAC (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) was found in parts of the roofing.

To meet government guidelines, specialist inspections had to be conducted. Now completed, they report the RAAC to be in good condition throughout the site and extra supports have been fitted to meet building regulations.

From today, only Shaping the Body will remain closed for the time being while further work is carried out.

The Prison Cells, the Sixties Gallery and the First World War Gallery were able to remain open.

REVIEW: NE Theatre York in A Christmas Carol, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York ***

Chain reaction: Steve Tearle’s Jacob Marley spooks Kit Stroud’s Ebenezer Scrooge in NE Theatre York’s A Christmas Carol

NE Theatre York – or NE Musicals York as they were back then – staged the York premiere of this all-singing version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at the JoRo in November 2018.

More Christmas advert season than Advent season on that occasion, but the show’s return heralds Advent’s arrival on Sunday, and the festive mood is already alive and noisy, like the crisp and sweet packet scrunching that accompanied Tuesday’s opening night.

Scrooge moan over, some things have changed since 2018, some have not. More on the changes later, but first: the cast numbers 60 once more; Steve Tearle is directing and playing the ghost of Jacob Marley in white suit and face paint again, and the Sold Out signs will be greeting theatregoers again and again on the street scene on the JoRo forecourt. No tickets left, not one.

A roll of thunder announces the arrival of Tearle’s Marley on a London set familiar to audiences who saw his production of Oliver!. Temporarily, north easterner Steve turns Brummie to make the obligatory mobile phone pronouncement but with the impish humour that will mark a frenetic, fantastical, phantasmagorical production into which he will throw everything, magical books, bouncing balls and kitchen sink included (metaphorically speaking).

Perri Ann Barley’s Ghost of Christmas Past

Look out too for the misbehaving chairs and bed in Scrooge’s house, leaping into the air as if propelled by the handiwork of ghosts.

Written by Beauty And The Beast and The Little Mermaid composer Alan Menken, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens, the musical began life as a film before being re-created for the Broadway stage, opening at Madison Square Garden.

Its driving force is the modern musical score under Scott Phillips’s enthusiastic direction,  but the dialogue fizzes along too – everything is home and hosed by 9.30pm – with Tearle’s Marley as host, ghost and timekeeper.

Changes afoot? The familiar tale of miserable, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemptive journey through Christmas Eve night still takes the form of encounters with Ghosts of the Past, Present and Yet To Be but Tearle has fortified the circus setting first evoked in 2018, while Melissa Boyd’s choreography nods to both 1856 and modern moves for ensemble numbers.

Once more the ghosts are first seen in their real-world guises as a lamplighter (Perri Ann Barley), Ring Master (Chris Hagyard, taking the circus theme further than James O’Neil’s charity show barker of 2018), and an Old Hag (John Mulholland). Note their Christmas colours of snow white, ivy green and holly berry red.

Chris Hagyard’s Ghost of Christmas Present

Tearle loves theatricality, spectacle in particular, and here he quite surpasses himself by having Marley wreathed in 100 metres of white fabric, stretched like waves across the stage as he urges Kit Stroud’s grouchy Scrooge to learn the error of his ways before it is too late. Marley’s trademark chains are more like a rapper’s bling adornments by comparison.

Graduating from his 2018 role as Young Ebenezer, Stroud’s Scrooge is mean of voice and demeanour at the outset, his lead performance being alive to both the humour and inhumanity the part demands.

Shocked by what he learns of himself, his Scrooge is pained by the recollections of his younger self, when guided by Perri Ann Barley’s Ghost Of Christmas Past with her coat of lights leading the way.

Ockrent and Ahrens’s book weaves one departure from Dickens’s novella into the plot: the story of Scrooge’s father, John William Scrooge, being sentenced to a debtors’ prison while his horrified wife’s family look on as they sing God Bless Us, Everyone.

Cowering into a ball, Stroud’s Scrooge screams “Mother” (as played by Rebecca Jackson), the stuff of a psychological thriller to counter the pantomimic comedy mayhem that subsequently permeates Mr Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball.

John Mulholland’s Ghost of Christmas Yet To Be

Hagyard, out of luck in October when Bev Jones Company’s Guys And Dolls had to be called off, puts that frustration behind him in a terrific performance,  pulling strings as Ring Master cum Ghost of Christmas Present.

Greg Roberts’s clown-wigged Mr Fezziwig and Ali Butler-Hind’s Mrs Fezziwig enjoy themselves too in that first-half climax, while Kristian Barley’s Bob Cratchit and Alice Atang’s Tiny Tim maximise their moments too.

Mulholland’s Ghost of Christmas Yet To Be transforms from Old Hag to flame-maned heavy metal frontman, the shock of the new steering Stroud’s alarmed Scrooge towards the dawn of realisation and change.

Visually arresting, largely playful rather than psychological, A Christmas Carol is a typically vibrant, helter-skelter Tearle production, where the singing and musicianship is of varied quality, the dancing and acting being more assured by comparison.

NE Theatre York in A Christmas Carol, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday; 7.30pm nightly and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. SOLD OUT. Box office for returns only: 01904 501935 or

NE Theatre York to go to the circus in Steve Tearle’s “very different” staging of A Christmas Carol musical at JoRo Theatre

Kit Stroud’s Ebenezer Scrooge in NE Theatre York’s A Christmas Carol

NE Theatre York revisit Alan Menken’s musical take on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from tomorrow to Saturday.

“We first performed this version of the show in 2018, when it was such a fantastic experience and so successful that it’s been our most requested show to perform again,” says director Steve Tearle. “We were even asked if we could tour with the show.”

In Dickens’s harrowing yet redemptive tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean man with a dislike for mankind, he will be clanking his chains for a second time as Scrooge’s late business partner Jacob Marley. “I’ve only played Marley in A Christmas Carol as he’s such a brilliant character that it’s a joy to play,” he reasons.

Director Steve Tearle and lead actor Kit Stroud in rehearsal for A Christmas Carol

“Five years ago, we staged it very differently to our new production. While still referencing the traditional dance moves of 1856, we’ve added a lot more contemporary moves into the show.

“Marley’s appearance will be very different, using 100 metres of fabric, plus we’re adding a circus. On top of that, the audience experience will start outside: as they walk up to the theatre, they will be treated to a typical London street in 1856.

“Once inside the auditorium, they’ll see we’re using a very similar set to our award-winning Oliver! as both Dickens stories are set in exactly the same place and time.”

John Mulholland’s Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Be in NE Theatre York’s A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol features music by Alan Menken, best known for such Disney musicals as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty And The Beast and Newsies, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Mike Ockrent and Ahrens.

From 1994 to 2003, the show was staged annually at New York City’s Theatre at Madison Square, where Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham, Jim Dale, The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Frank Langella were among those to play Scrooge.

The London run in 2020 featured Brian Conley as Scrooge and now Kit Stroud takes the role for NE Theatre York as the miser is visited by the ghost of his former partner, Tearle’s Marley, who died seven years previously.

Ghosts galore: clockwise, Chris Hagyard’s Ghost of Christmas Past, John Mulholland’s Ghost of Christmas-Yet-To-Be, Perri Ann Barley’s Ghost of Christmas Present and Steve Tearle’s Jacob Marley

“Scrooge is a very challenging role as he only leaves the stage for a couple of moments in Act One; he is on stage for the rest of the time, and we’re delighted to have Kit playing him,” says Steve. 

Marley forewarns Scrooge to expect a visit from three ghosts – the Ghost of Christmas Past (Perri Ann Barley), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Chris Hagyard) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Be (John Mulholland) – who urge him to mend his ways if he is to avoid the horrible consequences of treating people badly.

“With more than 60 people in the cast, this show will be a true Christmas spectacular featuring  hilarious comedy characters such as Mr and Mrs Fezziwig (Ali Butler Hind and Greg Roberts) in a festive musical story that will definitely kickstart your Christmas,” says Steve.

Greg Roberts and Ali Butler Hind as Mr and Mrs Fezziwig

“It’s going to be magical, with books that light up, ghosts that appear out of nowhere and time travel, which is always exciting, and the ending, when Scrooge becomes good, is such a heartwarming moment.” 

Any newcomers to look out for in the company? “Rebecca Jackson, who plays Scrooge’s Mother as we are transported to the past,” highlights Steve. “She has a beautiful stand-out song.”

Naming his favourite character, he picks Tiny Tim, to be played by Alice Atang. “She brings such innocence to the role, and when she sings her solo song, it’s so touching.”

NE Theatre York in A Christmas Carol, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, November 28 to December 2, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Tickets update: last few tickets still available for Friday and Saturday night; the rest, sold out. Box office: 01904 501935 or


NE Theatre York ensemble members in rehearsal for A Christmas Carol

James Swanton has more than Dickensian ghost stories on his Christmas plate as BBC appearance as bag of bones awaits

James Swanton: Ghost Stories for Christmas returns to York Medical Society

GOTHIC York York actor James Swanton is reviving his Dickensian Ghost Stories for Christmas trilogy at York Medical Society, Stonegate, from tomorrow.

Soon to appear in the BBC Christmas ghost story Lot No. 249 too, he will be presenting hour-long solo renditions of A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Haunted Man, before transferring to the Charles Dickens Museum, located at the author’s only London home to survive, 48 Doughty Street.

“I’m starting and finishing my run in York a little earlier than usual,” says James. “Mainly because there’s been such demand for the shows in London, 21 shows there from December 13 to 23, so the York run of ten feels fairly relaxed by comparison.

“York’s winding alleyways and tumbledown buildings are so beautifully suited to Dickens that it would have been inconceivable to strike it from my schedule. There really couldn’t be a more fitting venue than York Medical Society.

“Accordingly, I’ll be giving six performances of A Christmas Carol – you can never have too much of it, particularly with this year being its 180th anniversary – and two showings apiece of The Chimes and The Haunted Man, both lesser known but fascinating follow-ups.”

All three stories are richly rewarding, says James: “They brim with Dickens’s eye for capturing the weird, the strange and the odd, from human eccentricities to full-blown phantoms. Dickens’s anger at social injustice also aligns sharply with our own – and of course, there’s a lot to be angry about at the moment.

James Swanton in The Haunted Man. Picture: Alex Hyndman

“But beyond anything, these stories are masterful exercises in theatrical storytelling, with a real sense of joy emerging from the Victorian gloom.”

When did James first encounter A Christmas Carol? “I have a feeling that my first exposure was watching the rather exquisite Richard Williams animation from 1971, though I have no way of proving this. A particularly frightening Marley in that one,” he says. “The Muppet masterpiece won’t have been far behind. Two particularly musical Marleys in that one.”

Picking a favourite screen version of A Christmas Carol, James plumps for: “Alastair Sim’s Scrooge from 1951. The screenplay’s unusually sophisticated – and has the hubris to invent reams of credible Dickens! – but Sim himself is the reason it’s a cut above, because he was primarily a comic actor (and a comic actor of genius).

“It’s tempting to get an ageing Shakespearean titan to play Scrooge, but I think this misses the point of Scrooge, who’s hilarious even at his most wicked. He’s not King Lear – except to character actors!

“In more recent years, the one-man films starring Simon Callow and Jefferson Mays have thoroughly gripped me.”

Assessing why Dickens’s story still so popular after 180 Christmases, James says: “It’s that fool-proof structure that’s protected the material across constant (indeed, ongoing) reinterpretations. Provided you stick with the basic five acts – Past, Present and Yet To Come, as bordered by Scrooge’s before and after – you can play around with the details.

“York’s winding alleyways and tumbledown buildings are so beautifully suited to Dickens that it would have been inconceivable to strike it from my schedule,” says James Swanton. Picture: Jtu Photography

“For all their merits, both The Chimes and The Haunted Man lose their hold on the memory by this structure’s omission.”

Since last December’s run of Ghost Stories for Christmas, James has been hard at work on various filming jobs. “It’s been my year for Christmas ghost stories!” he says. “At the start of 2023, I made two short films, The Dead Of Winter and To Fire You Come At Last, that were indebted to the BBC’s legendary M. R. James adaptations from the 1970s.

“The Dead Of Winter was done in Farnham in January. I’m playing a rough sleeper who becomes a ghostly form of embodied conscience. To Fire You Come At Last was filmed in the wilds of Shropshire in March. I play an alcohol-ravaged wastrel who – along with three equally reluctant men – must  carry the coffin of the Squire’s son down the corpse road to the graveyard.

“It’s in black and white and feels like something out of [Samuel] Beckett; the best part I’ve had in years. Both films have been doing the festival rounds, and I know that at least one of them will be getting a physical release before too long.”

A few months ago, League Of Gentlemen alumnus Mark Gatiss asked James to play the ghost in Lot No. 249, his retelling of an Arthur Conan Doyle short story, as part of a cast led by Kit Harington and Freddie Fox.

Television viewers will see James as what the BBC press release calls a “horrifying bag of bones”.  Although the precise broadcast time is still to be announced, “this BBC Ghost Story for Christmas coincides very nicely with my ongoing commitment to Dickens’s slightly earlier Victorian Gothic,” says James. “Based on the past few years, I suspect it’ll go out on either December 23 or Christmas Eve itself.

James Swanton, left, and Mark Gattis rehearsing The Quatermass Experiment. Picture: Sonia Sanchez Lopez

“Obsessed with the Gothic as I am, it was a dream fulfilled to become a part of this great tradition. I’d just performed with Gatiss in a stage production of The Quatermass Experiment. He’s steeped in Conan Doyle, and his adaptation is at once gratifyingly faithful and wickedly surprising.

“I’m encased in particularly ghoulish make-up by Dave Elsey, who won the Oscar for The Wolfman. And I do the most dreadful things to Kit Harington! I’m tremendously excited about it all.”

James points out further opportunities to see him at work this Christmas.  “As well as Lot No. 249, my one-man film of The Haunted Man will be streamed by the Dickens Museum again on December 11,” he says. “And my on-and-off colleagues, the York Ghost Merchants, in Shambles, might have a few announcements of their own to come.”

More immediately, James has strategic advice for securing tickets for Ghost Stories for Christmas. “Early on is best. Most of my A Christmas Carol showings are crammed into the first week, and there are seats left for all of them,” he says.

“For reasons that remain unclear, November 30 has been a conspicuously slow seller, so I’ll be gladdened if people book for that! The second performances of both The Chimes and The Haunted Man have all but sold out (as of this moment, a single seat remains for each), but tickets can be procured for their first outings.

“With tickets being only £15 each, this could be the perfect way to kick off your festive celebrations. In any case, I look forward to gathering people together for some heart-warming storytelling:  traditional to the bones, but speaking to us just as powerfully as it did 180 years ago.”

What’s coming up for James in 2024? “So far, absolutely nothing!” he says. “My tendency has always been to develop pre-show rather than post-show blues, though, so I don’t find this too daunting. I’ll be glad of a slight rest, and perhaps a chance to read Victorian literature instead of act it.”

James Swanton presents Ghost Stories for Christmas at York Medical Society, Stonegate, York:  A Christmas Carol, November 27, 28 and 30, then December 1, 5 and 6; The Haunted Man, November 29 and December 7; The Chimes, December 4 and 11. All performances start at 7pm and last approximately one hour. Box office: 01904 623568 or

More Things To Do in York and beyond the second star to the right. Here’s Hutch’s List No. 48 for 2023, from The Press, York

Christmas In Neverland at Castle Howard

’TIS the season for Dickens shows to begin, from solo shows to a musical, and to venture into Neverland too as Charles Hutchinson gets his festive skates on.

Fantastical adventure of the week and beyond: Christmas In Neverland, Castle Howard, near York, extended until January 7

CASTLE Howard is transformed with floristry, installations, props, soundscapes and projections to create an enchanting festive experience inspired by J M Barrie’s Peter Pan in Charlotte Lloyd Webber Event Design’s sixth magical installations inside the 300-year-old country house.

Look out for the Darling children’s London bedroom, Mermaid’s Lagoon, Captain Hook’s Cabin and the Jolly Roger as the design team prioritises sustainability and recycled materials, such as paper and glass, and teams up with Leeds theatre company Imitating The Dog, whose immersive projections and soundscapes feature for the first time. Tickets:    

Nunkie Theatre Company’s artwork for Casting The Runes

Thriller of the week: Nunkie Theatre Company in Casting The Runes, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Sunday (26/11/2023), 7.30pm

M R James wrote his ghost stories to perform to friends in the years leading up to the First World War. Today they have lost none of their power to terrify and amuse in the hands of Nunkie Theatre Company, presenting two tales in a one-man show.

Casting The Runes’ story of the unforgettable Mr Karswell, magic lanternist, occult historian and scourge of academics, is partnered by James’s most neglected masterpiece, The Residence At Whitminster, wherein a dark shadow looms over the precinct of a peaceful English church. Box office:

Who am I? The answer is Bridget Christie, feeling the heat at Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Natasha Pszenicki

Comedy gig of the week: Bridget Christie: Who Am I?, Grand Opera House, York, Sunday (26/11/2023), 7.30pm

BRIDGET Christie is hot, but not in a good way, she says, in her menopause comedy, where she is confused, furious, sweaty and annoyed by everything. At 52, she leaks blood, sweats, thinks Chris Rock is the same person as The Rock and cannot ride the motorbike she bought to combat her mid-life crisis because of early osteoarthritis in her hips and RSI in her wrist.

In Who Am I? Christie wonders why there are so many films, made by men, about young women discovering their sexuality, but none about middle-aged women forgetting theirs. Box office:

James Swanton: Presenting Ghost Stories For Christmas at York Medical Society

Dickens of a good storyteller: James Swanton’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, York Medical Society, Stonegate, York, select dates from November 27 to December 11, 7pm

SOON to be seen in Lot No. 249, Mark Gatiss’s retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Christmas ghost story for the BBC, gothic York storyteller and actor James Swanton revives his seasonal Charles Dickens trilogy: A Christmas Carol (six performances), on the book’s 180th anniversary, The Haunted Man and The Chimes (two each).

“‘All three stories are richly rewarding,” says James. “They brim with Dickens’s eye for capturing the weird, the strange and the odd, from human eccentricities to full blown phantoms. Dickens’s anger at social injustice also aligns sharply with our own – and of course, there’s a lot to be angry about at the moment.” Box office and performance details: 01904 623568 or

Joanne Clifton’s Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical at Grand Opera House, York

American musical of the week: Shrek The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinee

LEAVE winter troubles far, far away to join the musical adventure as ogre Shrek (Antony Lawrence) and his buddy Donkey (Brandon Lee Sears) endeavour to complete their quest to defeat the dragon and save Princess Fiona (2016 Strictly champ Joanne Clifton). Look out for James Gillan’s Lord Farquaad too.

Based on the first animated Shrek film, DreamWorks’ musical features such David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori songs as Big Bright Beautiful World and I Know It’s Today alongside Neil Diamond’s climactic I’m A Believer. Box office:

Kit Stroud as Ebenezer Scrooge in NE Theatre York’s A Christmas Carol

Festive musical of the week: NE Theatre York in A Christmas Carol, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

STEVE Tearle first staged Alan Menken’s musical version of Charles Dickens’s heart-warming story A Christmas Carol for NE Musicals five years ago. Once more he will combine directing a cast of 60 with playing the chain-clanking Jacob Marley.

Kit Stroud plays Ebenezer Scrooge, whose deep dislike of mankind is interrupted on Christmas Eve by three ghosts who, one by one, warn him of the consequences of the suffering he has caused. Will he join them, or will he mend his ways? Tickets update: all but the first two performances have sold out; last few tickets for Tuesday and Wednesday, 01904 501935 or

Mark Farrelly in Jarman at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York

Solo play of the week: Mark Farrelly’s Jarman, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Wednesday, 7.30pm

MARK Farrelly, the writer-performer behind Quention Crisp: Naked Hope and Howerd’s End, turns his attention to Derek Jarman, iconoclastic filmmaker, painter, Prospect Cottage gardener, gay rights activist and writer.

“His influence remains as strong as it was on the day AIDS killed him in 1994, but his story, one of the most extraordinary lives ever lived, has never been told. Until now,” says Farrelly, whose passionate, daring reminder of the courage it takes to truly live when alive takes Jarman from Dungeness to deepest, brightest Soho. Box office:

Paul Weller: Returning to York Barbican next spring

Gig announcement of the week: Paul Weller, York Barbican, April 17 2024

THE Modfather Paul Weller will head back to York Barbican next spring after kicking off 2024 with a long-awaited January return to Japan and a trip to Australia, highlighted by three nights at the Sydney Opera House. He last performed at the Barbican in April 2022.

In 2023, Weller has played around Europe, performed a handful of Forest Live shows and had a special guest slot to Blur at Wembley Stadium. Next spring’s 14-date tour also takes in Sheffield City Hall on April 11. Tickets go on sale from Friday, December 1 at 10am at,, and

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol, Be Amazing Arts, promenading around Malton Market Place, until December 24 ****

Quinn Richards leading the promenade route as Charles Dickens/Ebenezer Scrooge in Be Amazing Arts’ A Christmas Carol

MALTON market knows how to market itself. The title of Yorkshire’s Food Capital may be self-anointed, under the bold visions of the Fitzwilliam Malton Estate, but it can pack a punch as much as a lunch in any culinary quest.

Likewise, Malton knows how to maximise – let’s resist the foodie word ‘milk’ here – its links with Charles Dickens, who would perform at the old theatre on his reading tours.

A plaque in Chancery Lane is all that remains of the now closed Scrooge and Marley Counting House/Dickens Museum, long said to be the inspiration for Scrooge’s office in A Christmas Carol, no less.

Those premises were the offices of Dickens’s great friend, lawyer, Charles Smithson, whose wife received an 1844 signed copy of Dickens’s novel on Smithson’s untimely death at 39. What’s more, various characters in Dickens’s stories were based on Malton residents, apparently.

The Ghost of Christmas Past takes to the Malton streets with Ebenezer Scrooge

The Malton Dickensian Festival has delighted audiences, especially with Miriam Margolyes’s hugely enthusiastic celebrated readings. Now comes Be Amazing Arts’ Dickensian enterprise, part of the Malton company’s mission to “tell stories, provide creative opportunities and inspire the next generation of performers”.

Produced by James Aconley, overseen by operations director Natalie Aconley, and adapted by Roxanna Klimaszewska – a name familiar to York audiences from her work with Six Lips Theatre – this immersive promenade production of A Christmas Carol enjoyed its sold-out debut run on Malton’s streets last winter.

If at first you succeed, then of course you should bring it back, with the enticement of “an adapted script, more unexpected stops and Be Amazing’s unearthing of more and more connections between Dickens and the town”.

Sure enough, ticket demand has been just as high this season, the freezing temperatures adding to the atmosphere generated by the story’s ghostly chill, but coupled ultimately with a warmth inside as reviving as the (non-alcoholic) mulled wine served part-way round.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come towers over Scrooge

Aptly, the promenade performance starts at Kemps Books, where Quinn Richards’s elegantly dressed Charles Dickens engages in a conversation with fellow professional actor James Rotchell’s Charles Smithson, excitedly informing him of his latest writing venture, A Christmas Carol.

Whereupon he begins to tell the story, subsequently shifting between upright, engaging narrator/promenade guide Dickens and the stooped, winter-bitter Ebenezer Scrooge.

Rotchell, in turn, switches from ever-supportive Smithson to put-upon office clerk Bob Cratchit and a chain-clad Jacob Marley in the first of the empty Market Place premises taken over for the production run, as children’s fingers tap spookily on the windows.

Rotchell adds generous host Fezziwig to his repertoire, his multi-role playing matched by third professional cast member Kirsty Wolff’s Ghost of Christmas Present, Mrs Cratchit and Clara.

They are joined by members of Be Amazing’s Young Company, who add so much to the scenes both on the streets and inside, from serving the drinks to playing a multitude of characters with such relish, led by Kelly Appleby’s Belle, Erin Warren’s lit-up Ghost of Christmas Past and Torin Pope’s Fred on the night attended by CharlesHutchPress.

Quinn Richards’ Scrooge leans out of an upstairs window to ask a passing boy to buy the biggest turkey in the butcher’s shop

The promenade takes in an empty shop, festive nibbles in the company of the Cratchits at The Cook’s Place cookery school in Market Street and a scene outside St Michael’s Church, where Tiny Tim Cratchit and Scrooge’s forewarning gravestones are placed.

James Aconley promisedsomething a bit different but also very festive and magical”. Tick, tick and tick, how right he is. Tick tock too, as the loud sound of a clock in the street accompanies Scrooge’s race against time to change from dark to enlightened by Christmas Day morning.

Played out against the backdrop of a winter of discontent, distress, division and dissent, this imaginative, bracing, haunting yet uplifting production is a winning combination of A Christmas Carol and Malton as you have never seen them before (unless you were there last year of course!). A return next year must be on the cards.

Be Amazing Arts in A Christmas Carol, Malton Market Place, December 21, 23 and 24, 7pm. Box office to check ticket availability: 01653 917271 or

Quinn Richards: Lighting up Malton in A Christmas Carol

Cast list for the night CharlesHutchPress attended:

Quinn Richards: Charles Dickens/Ebenezer Scrooge

James Rotchell: Charles Smithson/Jacob Marley/Fezziwig/Bob Cratchit

Kirsty Wolff: Ghost of Christmas Present/Mrs Cratchit/Clara

Kelly Appleby: Belle/Various roles

Erin Warren: Ghost of Christmas Past/Various roles

Dominic Walker: Young Cratchit/Boy/Beggar/Carol Singer

Flynn Coultous: Young Scrooge/Husband

Beth Wright: Woman 1/Belinda Cratchit/Gent 1

Lucy Kerr: Woman 2/Martha Cratchit

Jessica Middlewood: Fanny/Young Lady/Young Cratchit/Laundress

Torin Pope: Fred/Suit 1

Charlie Kerr: Gentleman 1/Topper/Suit 2

Celia Brass: Young Cratchit

Noah Samuel: Young Cratchit

Elliot Samuel: Young Cratchit

Jeremy Walker: Tiny Tim

More Things To Do In York and beyond to warm the art as temperatures plummet. Hutch’s List No. 109, from The Press

Into The Lights, digital photomontage by Adele Karmazyn, from her Hidden Spaces exhibition at City Screen Picturehouse, York

IT’S beginning to look a lot like Christmas will be the be all and end all of Charles Hutchinson’s list. Except for a bite of comedy, a Scotsman and hidden digital artworks, that is.

Exhibition launch of the week: Adele Karmazyn, Hidden Spaces, City Screen Picturehouse café, York, from Monday to January 14 2023

INSPIRED by this year’s York Unlocked event, York Open Studios regular Adele Karmazyn has embraced the opportunity to visit this historic city’s hidden spaces, taking photographs on the way.

These photos create the backdrop for her new body of work, each piece evolving into an individual story when she brings in her 19th century characters, taken from old cabinet photographs, and combines these with other photographs of objects, landscapes and creatures in her digital photomontages. By merging multiple layers and concentrating on light and depth, Adele creates “realistic, believable scenarios, which at the same time could never possibly be”.

Promenade light for dark nights: Quinn Richards leads the way as Charles Dickens in Be Amazing Arts’ A Christmas Carol in Malton Market Place

Promenade event of the week: Be Amazing Arts in A Christmas Carol, Malton Market Place, until December 24, 7pm nightly (except December 16 and 22); 5pm on Christmas Eve

AFTER a sell-out debut run in 2021, Be Amazing Arts return to Malton Market Place with Rozanna Klimaszewska’s promenade adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in the market town where Dickens himself performed at the long-gone theatre.

Starting out at Kemps General Store, this immersive theatre and dining experience invites you to follow Dickens (Quinn Richards, who also plays Ebenezer Scrooge) as he tells the story and brings to life Dickens’s characters alongside fellow professionals James Rotchell and Kirsty Wolff and Be Amazing’s Young Company. Festive canapes and a warming winter drink are provided by The Cook’s Place. Box office: 01653 917271 or

Mari Christmas: Mari Wilson in festive mood at Selby Town Hall tonight

Have yourself a Mari little Christmas: Mari Wilson, Selby Town Hall, tonight, 8pm

JUST what you always wanted: A Mari Christmas from Neasden’s “Nymphette of Nail Varnish and High Priestess of Hair Spray”, Miss Beehive, songstress Mari Wilson, who will be combining her Eighties’ hits with tunes of Yuletide yesterdays, a Singalong-a-Christmas and seasonal surprises. Dressing up is a must for the complete Wilsational night. Box office: 01757 708449 or

Fresh from Squeeze’s Food For Thought autumn tour, Chris Difford is doing the solo rounds, returning to Selby on Friday. Sold out, alas.

Mostly Autumn: Winter songs at The Crescent

Entirely winter from… Mostly Autumn Christmas Show!, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 8pm (doors 7pm)

YORK prog-rockers Mostly Autumn celebrate Christmas with a standing show at The Crescent, sure to feature For Everyone At Christmastime. Expect hard rock, Celtic themes, traces of trad folk and more contemporary influences too in a set of festive fireworks from Bryan Josh, Olivia Sparnenn-Josh, Angela Gordon and co for devotes of Seventies’ Genesis, Pink Floyd, Camel, Renaissance and Jethro Tull, before they head off to Belgium next week. Box office:

O little voices of Barbican: York’s community carol concert

Christmas institution of the week: York Community Carol Concert, York Barbican, Sunday, 2pm

AFTER 64 years, York’s community carol concert draws in all ages and still plays to full houses. Taking part this time will be York Railway Institute Band; Osbaldwick Primary Academy Choir; St Oswald’s CE Primary School; Stamford Bridge Community Choir and York singer, songwriter and guitarist Steve Cassidy. 

Mike Pratt is the musical director, with the Reverend Andrew Foster and BBC Radio York presenter Adam Tomlinson as the co-hosts, for an afternoon of Christmas carols and songs in aid of the Lord Mayor and Sheriff of York’s Christmas Cheer Fund and Martin House Children’s Hospice. Box office:

Rick Wakeman: Re-awakening songs with a Christmas twist and festive flair at York Barbican

More Christmas events at York Barbican: Disney’s The Muppet Christmas Carol: Live In Concert, Monday, 7pm; Rick Wakeman’s Grumpy Christmas Stocking, Tuesday, 7.30pm; Emma Bunton: The Christmas Show 2022, December 16, 8pm

DISNEY’S The Muppet Christmas Carol, the one with Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Michael Caine as stingy Ebenezer Scrooge, Gonzo as Charles Dickens and Miss Piggy as Emily Cratchit, will be accompanied by a live performance of the musical score.

Yes organist Rick Wakeman gives a Yuletide twist to his grand piano and electric keyboard arrangements of songs from his own career and others, plus a few surprises, punctuated by stories.

Emma Bunton spices up her Christmas Party with solo career hits, Spice Girls staples and festive favourites. Box office:

No More, vows Steve Mason, in his tour show at The Crescent, York

Most welcome Scottish visitor of the week: Steve Mason, No More Tour, The Crescent, York, Thursday, 7.30pm

SCOTSMAN Steve Mason is joined by keyboardist Darren Morris on his No More Tour, named after his new single. Melodious material from his Beta Band days and solo catalogue are promised, along with a showcase of songs from Brothers And Sisters, his first album since January 2019’s About The Light, ready for release in 2023. Cobain Jones is the support act. Box office:

Russell Kane: His strain of comedy will keep on running in 2022

Comedy gigs of the week: Russell Kane Live!: The Essex Variant, York Barbican, Wednesday, 8pm; Dara OBriain: So…Where Were We?, York Barbican, Thursday, 8pm

MAN Baggage and Evil Genius podcaster, comedian, actor, writer and presenter Russell Kane discusses “the two years we’ve just gone through” in his Essex variant of Covid comedy.

By way of contrast, in his sold-out return, Irishman Dara OBriain will “hardly mention the last year and a half, because, Jesus, who wants to hear about that but will instead fire out the usual mix of stories, one-liners and audience messing”.  Box office: for Kane tickets only,

So…where are you on Tuesday, Dara? At a sold out York Barbican for “the usual mix of stories, one-liners and audience messing”

James Swanton presents Dickens of a long run of Ghost Stories for Christmas in York, at London museum and around the country UPDATED with review 13/12/2022

“I’m rarely happier than at the authentically Dickensian location of York Medical Society,” says James Swanton

YORK horror actor and ghost storyteller James Swanton returns to his familiar haunt of York Medical Society from tomorrow (29/11/2022) with his most ambitious schedule of Charles Dickens stories.

This past Outstanding Performing Artist winner in the York Culture Awards is reviving Ghost Stories for Christmas, complementing 12 shows in York with 20 more around the country.

James’s hour-long solo renditions of A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Haunted Man will play select dates in York from the earlier-than-usual opening date of November 29 to December 20, as well as transferring to London’s Charles Dickens Museum in the run-up to Christmas.

“I’m delighted to once again be acting in my home city of York, and I’m rarely happier than at the authentically Dickensian location of York Medical Society on Stonegate,” says James.

“I’ve had a busy year on the film front, which means I’ve been variously transported to the Netherlands, Los Angeles, Serbia and Italy across the last 12 months. All very exciting, but Christmas is a time for home.”

James has never given more performances of A Christmas Carol than this year – eight alone in York! “I’m greatly looking forward to all of them, as they’re reliably cheerful experiences at what’s often the most stressful time of the year,” he says.

“However, the two lesser-known stories, The Chimes and The Haunted Man, are also very suited to our times. The Chimes is absolutely hilarious, yet it overbrims with anger at the injustices done to the least fortunate in society; The Haunted Man is a chilling supernatural tale but also a portrait of a man struggling with his mental health.

“These subjects have been much on our minds in recent years, and Dickens attacks them in a fashion that’s not only powerful but intensely hopeful.

“I look forward to gathering people together for an hour of truly heart-warming storytelling. God knows we need it,” says James

“A Christmas Carol, of course, is one of the greatest things ever written. I’ve found there’s little that’s more rewarding to perform as an actor. And there’s certainly no story that audiences are more eager to hear to the end.”

Despite the successful run of Ghost Stories for Christmas last December, James has not been seen on a York stage this year. “Although the world’s opening up and theatre’s getting back to normal, 2022 has been a year of film work – horror film work, specifically, which is what happens when you have a face like mine.”

As well as the Netherlands, Serbia and Italy, James was even whisked off to Los Angeles for “a mad couple of days”. “Annoyingly, most of these projects I’m not allowed to talk about yet – although I did make a feature film of The Haunted Man that streams through the Charles Dickens Museum’s website on December 4. So that’s a viable alternative for those who are still hesitant about attending live shows.”

As usual, the York run of Ghost Stories for Christmas is selling quickly, prompting James to offer strategic advice for securing tickets. “The best availability is at the start of the run, particularly the first few performances of A Christmas Carol and The Chimes in late November and early December,” he says.

“In defiance of the cost-of-living crisis, I’ve kept the ticket price exactly the same as when I last gave the shows. £14 a ticket is a snip these days, so if you’re looking for an activity for a large party, these ghost stories might be the perfect solution.

“In any case, I look forward to gathering people together for an hour of truly heart-warming storytelling. God knows we need it.”

James Swanton, Ghost Stories for Christmas, York Medical Society, Stonegate, York, November 29 to December 20. A Christmas Carol will be performed on November 29 and December 1, 5, 6, 7, 12, 19 and 20; The Haunted Man, November 30 and December 10; The Chimes, December 8 and 13.

All performances start at 7pm and last approximately one hour. Tickets: 01904 623568, at or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

“I believe A Christmas Carol’s message rings out with as much urgency as it ever did,” says James

CharlesHutchPress asks the questions to dig out the stories behind York’s gothic storyteller supreme, James Swanton

Why does the York Medical Society so suit ghost-storytelling events, James?

“The building’s a properly ancient pile, festooned with dark wood panelling, open fireplaces, gilt-framed portraits and obscure implements in glass cases. It feels entirely plausible that it might host a ghost or two. 

“As I constantly point out, the site offers complete atmospheric immersion: approaching the front door by that tapered alleyway leading off Stonegate feels just like approaching Scrooge’s house on Christmas Eve. And let’s also remember that a former director of York Medical Society was a social acquaintance of Dickens.

“The building could scarcely be more magnificently haunted, so I was glad to see that my on-and-off collaborators at the York Ghost Merchants made use of it over Halloween.”

For those yet to see The Haunted Man, why should they do so?
“The Haunted Manis an overlooked Gothic chiller that often plays like a ghost-infused dress rehearsal for Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. The narrative is steeped in quintessential Victorian gloom yet also feels peculiarly modern, in that it explores its protagonist’s poor mental health.

“It’s all very dark and deep – the most difficult of the three pieces to act, but perhaps the most rewarding when it clicks. That said, there remain only three tickets for its York showings, so interested parties might be better off reserving places for the filmed version being streamed by the Dickens Museum on December 4.

Likewise, for those yet to see The Chimes, why should they do so?
“The Chimes is a remarkably strange riff on the Christmas Carolformula. The first half is a scathing social critique, at times less story than soapbox; then the second half plays out like a more demented take on It’s A Wonderful Life.

“The whole story comes thrillingly close to falling apart under the sheer weight of its own ideas, but Dickens manages (just) to keep it all together. There are goblins too: many, many goblins. The Victorians were fascinated by goblins – and I think we should be too!”

Given the bleak chill afflicting so many lives in 2022, with society more divided than ever, does A Christmas Carol strike you as being even more resonant this Christmas?

“I believe its message rings out with as much urgency as it ever did – though  perhaps ‘God Bless Us, Every One!’ now seems a little less fitting than ‘God Help Us, Every One!’.

“Scrooge has to go through hell to find redemption; if only our current ruling masters were forced to face a bit of the same,” says James

“The spectres of Ignorance and Want are obviously keenly felt at a time when an individual as grotesque as Matt Hancock can be forgiven his sins by simply appearing on television. (All that uncritical publicity for the measly appearance fee of £400,000).

“Scrooge has to go through hell to find redemption; if only our current ruling masters were forced to face a bit of the same. They never do, of course. Dickens would have heartily despised them – and no doubt pilloried them in his seasonal ghost stories. Merry Christmas.”

What has prompted you to do even more performances this winter in York and beyond?
“Essentially, I really enjoy doing them – provided my voice and limbs hold out! – and even though the earliest of the stories, A Christmas Carol, turns 180 in 2023, public demand for it seems to grow year on year.

“Even last Christmas, with so much Covid hesitancy surrounding live theatre, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the shows sold.”

What was the filming process for The Haunted Man that will be streamed through the Charles Dickens Museum. Was it a filmed version of your stage performance or were there new elements to it?

“Over the lockdown years, the Dickens Museum started to create these ingenious little streamed films, usually starring seasoned Dickensian actor Dominic Gerrard (his podcast Charles Dickens: A Brain On Fire is required listening for enthusiasts).

“I was keen to do the same with The Haunted Man as it’s one of the very few Dickens stories of any substantial length that’s never been filmed. The results are faithful to the stage version – it’s just me telling the tale, after all– but with lots of appealing bells and whistles: a magical coloured lighting palette, an ambient soundscape and a few low-key special effects, not least of which is everything being filmed within Dickens’s actual London house.

“I’m indebted to Jordan Evans-Hill at the Dickens Museum for pushing for it to be made and to Alex Hyndman for doing such a beautiful job on the filming and editing.

“It streams via Zoom at 7.30pm on Sunday, December 4, with tickets available on the Dickens Museum website. Here’s a handy link:

“I want people to see the shows without being deterred by yet another price hike,” says James

You can’t say much about filming in the Netherlands, Serbia and Italy this year, or being whisked to LA for a mad couple of days, but can you say at least a little more about them?!!

“I really can’t! I’m in non-disclosure agreements up to my eyeballs! What I will divulge is that I’ve been playing two parts that provide a most vindicating extension on a part I’ve already played in York.

“Even within the demands of a 48-hour round-trip to Hollywood – quite the most preposterous thing that’s ever happened to me – I have therefore been honouring my northern heritage! And as a dyed-in-the-wool horror enthusiast, I was thrilled to be involved with these films in particular. Announcements and releases to follow in 2023, I hope.”

You have kept the Ghost Stories for Christmas ticket price at £14. Why, when everything else is going up?

“I want people to see the shows without being deterred by yet another price hike. It’s worth pointing out that Dickens took special measures to ensure that people in every income bracket could experience his public readings.

“He wasn’t always successful, what with ticket-scalpers being a crafty breed, so, in that respect, I’m fortunate not to be a global celebrity (one man was actually killed in a fight over a ticket to see Dickens).

“Given that the main thrust of A Christmas Carol is anyway to spread the wealth around, it struck me as self-sabotage to charge more at a time when things only appear (just like every year) to be getting worse.”

What’s in the pipeline for you in 2023?

“I have nothing planned other than complete nervous collapse. I continue to pray for Richard III, though I expect I’ll be weary enough come January that I’d only convince as the version lying peacefully beneath that car park in Leicester.”

Ghost Stories For Christmas, part two: James Swanton, York Medical Society, Stonegate, York, select dates from November 29 to December 20, 7pm

The Chimes they are a-clangin’ in James Swanton’s account a Charles Dickens novella

REVIEW: The Chimes, James Swanton’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, York Medical Society, Stonegate, York, 8/12/2022

YORK’S gothic ghost storyteller supreme and film actor to boot, James Swanton, is part way through his most ambitious Dickensian schedule yet, with 12 shows back home and around 20 more around the country, transferring to London’s Charles Dickens Museum in the run-up to Christmas.

Ghost Stories For Christmas is made up of Swanton’s hour-long solo renditions of A Christmas Carol (eight performances) and the lesser-known The Chimes and The Haunted Man (two nights each).

Tonight (13/12/2022) is the second chance to hearThe Chimes, subtitled A Goblin Story Of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out And A New Year In. In Swanton’s nutshell, the first half is like music hall, the second more like Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, only more miserable.

Swanton, in immaculate Dickensian attire topped off by the most dapper of hats, greets you at the door, passing brief, apologetic comment on the non-Victorian scaffolding outside, but he is the master of atmosphere at the flick-off of a switch.

A single dim light picks out his face, sometimes enhanced by lamplight to emphasise his elongated features, his wide mouth, his narrow frame, gaunt pallor and impossibly long fingers. All this physicality goes into his storytelling, as important as his chameleon voice in creating character and tone as he spins Dickens’s tale with humour, intrigue, coloratura and just the right depth yet economy of detail.

First published in 1844 as the second in Dickens’s series of Christmas novellas, The Chimes was inspired by his year-long stay in Italy, and in particular by the clamour of the Genoese church bells.

At  the heart of the story is Trotty, an elderly messenger, and in no time Swanton has evoked myriad characters, from daughter Meg and fiancé Richard, to pompous Alderman Cute (your reviewer’s favourite) and ostentatious charity-dispensing MP Sir Joseph Bowley, poor countryman Will Fern and his orphaned niece Lilian.

In the church bell chamber, Trotty encounters the spirits of the bells and their goblin attendants, and here is where It’s A Wonderful Life comparisons fall into place as he is scalded for losing faith in man’s destiny to improve. So much more unfolds in a series of visions, portrayed so eloquently and ingeniously by Swanton in a night so chilling yet warming.

Ghost Stories For Christmas runs until December 20 on various dates. All performances start at 7pm and last approximately one hour. Tickets: 01904 623568, at or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Plan B doesn’t stop the Christmas buzz. List No. 60, courtesy of The Press, York

CHRISTMAS shows, Christmas concerts, Christmas plays, ‘tis the season for Charles Hutchinson’s diary to be jolly full.  

Jason Manford: “Exercising the old chuckle muscle”

Busy week for comedy: Jason Manford: Like Me, York Barbican, Thursday and Friday, 7.30pm.

SALFORD’S Jason Manford revives his funny-bloke-next-door schtick for Like Me, his follow-up to “the fun we had on my last tour”, Muddle Class, a show about turning from working class to middle class that played York Barbican in February and October 2018.

“In these trying times, it’s always important to be able to get away for a couple of hours and exercise the old chuckle muscle,” reckons Manford, 40, who has tickets available for both nights at

Meanwhile, Jack Dee’s Off The Telly gig, moved from April 25 2020 to tomorrow night, has sold out. So too have Alan Carr’s Regional Trinket shows on December 18 and 19.

Filey Brigg, seascape, by Rosie Dean at Village Gallery, York

Exhibition of the week: Rosie Dean, Seascapes, Village Gallery, Castlegate, York, until January 22, open 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

SEASCAPE artist Rosie Dean has taken part in York Open Studios for the past ten years. Now she is exhibiting at Simon Main’s Village Gallery through the winter months.

“I feel total peace breathing the ozone, staring out to sea and focusing on the horizon line, sensing all around me and feeling the elements around me, the sights and sounds, the salt in the air. Pure contentment,” says Rosie.

Levellers: Part of York Barbican’s busy week for concerts. Picture: Steve Gullick

Curiosity concert of the week: The Magical Music Of Harry Potter Live In Concert With The Weasleys, York Barbican, Monday 8pm.

POTTY about Potter? Then exit those Shambles shops and head to York Barbican for a night of music from Harry’s films and the West End musical, performed by the London Symphonic & Philharmonic Film Orchestra with the Weasley brothers in tow.

Original actors, magic, star soloists, a choir and the orchestra combine in the debut European tour’s programme of John Williams, Patrick Doyle, Nicolas Hooper and Alexander Desplat’s soundtrack magical moments, plus selections from the Harry Potter And The Cursed Child score. 

More music in York Barbican’s crammed pre-Christmas diary comes from Levellers, Brighton’s folk-rock stalwarts, tonight and Steve Steinman’s tribute show, Anything For Love: The Meat Loaf Story, on Wednesday, both at 7.30pm. Box office:

Steve Mason: Solo gig at Stockton on the Forest Village Hall

If you seek out one gig, make it: Steve Mason, Stockton on the Forest Village Hall, near York, Tuesday, doors, 8pm; start, 8.30pm.

STEVE Mason was the frontman of The Beta Band, cult Scottish exponents of folktronica, a blend of folk, psychedelia, electronica, experimental rock and trip hop.

He first dipped his toe into solo work on Black Gold, his mournful 2006 album under the guise of the short-lived King Biscuit Time and has since released Boys Outside in 2010, Ghosts Outside with Dennis Bovell in 2011, Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time in 2013, Meet The Humans in 2016 and About The Light in 2019.

Presented by All Off The Beaten Track, Mason will play solo on Tuesday. Box office:

The poster for The Arts Barge Christmas Party! at The Crescent, York

Christmas jamboree of the week: The Arts Barge Christmas Party!, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm.

THREE York community musical groups, Bargestra, The Stonegate Singers and The Blind Tiger Dance Band, unite for the Arts Barge Christmas bash.

Bargestra, the 20-piece Arts Barge band skippered by Christian Topman, play jazz, swing, Beatles, ska and more. The Stonegate Singers, a community choir open to anyone, is directed by Jon Hughes, who teaches the music by ear, one part at a time, so that anyone can do it.

The Blind Tiger Dance Band, Arts Barge’s 16-piece Lindy Hop swing band with Rinkadon Dukeboy up front, brings together seasoned professionals and rising young instrumentalists. All three groups will join together to make a 50-piece ensemble for the festive finale.

Recommended but alas sold out already at The Crescent are Christmas shows by Mostly Autumn on Sunday and fellow York band The Howl & The Hum on Wednesday, both at 7.30pm.

Chapter House Choir at the double: Carols by Candlelight, York Minster, Wednesday; Festival of Carols, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 18, both at 7.30pm.

THE Chapter House Choir’s Carols by Candlelight at York Minster has sold out, but a second chance to hear the York choir and its bell ringers comes at St Michael-le-Belfrey.

Tickets for a Festival of Carols are available via Eventbrite,  but do hurry because they are limited in number and selling fast.

Danny Mellor and Meg Matthews in Badapple Theatre Company’s The Snow Dancer. Picture: Karl Andre Photography

Global warming alert of the week: Badapple Theatre Company in The Snow Dancer, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Thursday, 7pm; Green Hammerton Village Hall, December 20, 2pm

GREEN Hammerton’s Badapple Theatre Company has revived artistic director Kate Bramley’s magical eco-fable, The Snow Dancer, for its latest rural tour.

Bramley’s original story blends festive family entertainment with an important eco-message and an original score by Jez Lowe, as actors Meg Matthews and Danny Mellor tell the story of the animals of The Great Wood, who are desperate for a long sleep, but find it too warm because something is awry.

The intrepid heroes in this fairy tale with a furry tail must search for the mysterious Snow Dancer to make it snow if they are ever to sleep. Box office: York, 01904 501935 or at; Green Hammerton, 01423 339168.

York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s artwork for A Nativity For York…Out Of The Darkness

Christmas plays of the week: York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust in A Nativity For York…Out Of The Darkness, Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York, December 17, 7pm; December 18, 2pm, 4pm, 6.30pm. A Christmas Carol, Mansion House, York, December 17 to 19, 7pm.

TERRY Ram directs the second York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust community production for Christmas, drawn from the York Cycle of Mystery Plays in the old church atmosphere of the Spurriergate Centre. Box office:

The Penny Magpie Theatre Company, from York, have sold out all three Mansion House performances of director Samantha Hindman’s adaptation of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, a version seen through the eyes of modern-day schoolboy Jon, who is gradually welcomed into Scrooge’s redemptive tale. Carols, mince pies, mulled wine and a house tour complete the festive experience.

Freedom is…Johannes Radebe’s debut tour show at at the Grand Opera House, York, next spring

Leaping into 2022: Johannes Radebe, Freedom, Grand Opera House, York, April 12, 7.30pm.

MAKING swish waves with baker John Whaite in Strictly Come Dancing’s first all-male coupling, South African dancer Johannes Radebe has announced his debut tour, Freedom.

Radebe will lead a company of dancers in classic Ballroom and Latin arrangements, scorching South African rhythms and huge party anthems, as he takes you on his journey from growing up in Zamdela, to travelling the world, winning competitions and becoming a Strictly professional.

Leave your inhibitions at the door and get ready for a night of energy, passion and freedom,” he says. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at