Scrooge the Musical. Curve Leicester. Insights into the rehearsals + interview with director Nikolai Foster.

The racks and racks of costumes for Curve’s Christmas production of Scrooge the Musical by Leslie Bricusse seem to go on forever in the tight corridor alongside the very industrious wardrobe department at Curve. The avalanche of Victorian period shoes is a wonder to see in passing. It could almost be as if the Ghost Of Christmas Present had kindly left them there for shoe-less urchins to clothe and warm their bare feet.

Scrooge – Costumes – Photography by Manuel Harlan

Downstairs, on the main theatre stage the busy technicians are beginning to assemble the massive set for Scrooge. This too looks mightily impressive even in its early construction stages.

Today (Monday 6th Nov 2017) I am bound for the second floor main stage rehearsal room to spend the day observing and making written notes. This will be a full day’s rehearsal for the Scrooge show. Nikolai Foster gives me a warm welcome and introduces me to his assistant Siobáhn Cannon- Brownlie. I have known Siobáhn for years and she is equally welcoming and tremendously helpful with my occasional questions.

International award winning choreographer Stephen Mear sits down next to me and says “hello”. In conversation he tells me, amongst other fascinating stories, about the sign language he built into the Mary Poppins hit show number ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. And you don’t have to spell that word on this website very often! Thank goodness!

Scrooge – Matthew Caputo (Mr Pringle) and Stephen Mear – Photography by Manuel Harlan

The ensemble start to go through a physical warm up with dance captain Matthew Caputo. Stephen explains to me that he likes the cast to be all shapes and sizes because, how they look and move, reflects a real society and not just a pretend population of slim dancers.

Scrooge – Rachel Stanley (Mrs Fezziwig), Darren Bennett (Mr Fezziwig) and Nia Jermin (Bess) – Photography by Manuel Harlan

The physical warm up is followed by a progressive vocal warm up. Then Nikolai Foster takes over to begin the rehearsal proper and his concentration is on the last part of the show where Scrooge disguises himself as Father Christmas. This features the songs ‘Thank You Very Much’ ‘I’ll Begin Again’ ‘Father Christmas’ and ‘A Better Life’. Sections are rehearsed over and over again and the dance elements take on new movements and gesturing. The ‘Thank You Very Much’ song and, storyline with Scrooge (Jasper Britton) pretending to be Father Christmas, gets fine detailed in the acting and the harmonies and unisons are improved in the singing. Stephen Mear layers the dance section as the actor/dancers cross each other in boy-girl groupings.

Jasper Britton as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photos by Manuel Harlan.

As we get to the “And if I had a drum I’d have to bang it…” tight drumming movements in the forearms and hands are introduced. As the various quick changes take place and are actualised, choreographer Stephen Mear advises  the ensemble to ‘keep the new process in the head and body memories’.

Scrooge – Darren Bennett, (Mr Fezziwig) Rachel Stanley (Mrs Fezziwig) and Lauren Stroud (Isabel and Helen) – Photography by Manuel Harlan

The ensemble seem a very happy and full of energy bunch. Even as, much later on, we head towards the close of rehearsal at 7.30pm (incidentally, they have been rehearsing since 10am) the energy levels seem just as fresh as at the start of the day. True hard working professionals.

Scrooge – Bree Smith (Henrietta Harty) and Hollie Taylor (Jocelyn Jollygoode) – Photography by Manuel Harlan

At one point in the rehearsal, director Nikolai Foster requests that the actors (within each individual character or pairing) anticipate the release of the weight of debt in their characterisations as Scrooge has just suddenly, and unexpectedly, released them from their lives of burden and financial liabilities.

After an hour break we begin again with Act One and an acoustic mélange of Christmas carols leading to the joyous singing of ‘A Christmas Carol’. It is beautifully sung and immediately you are in the mood for the story to unfold. This leads into a Scrooge’s office scene and the establishing of the relationships between the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit (Joe Maxwell) and the visiting nephew Harry (Nathanael Landskroner). Like in the first part of the rehearsing process, much is gone over again and again, developed and reinforced. From director Nikolai I observed that everything is done with encouragement, gratitude and professional patience.

When we come to a scene where ‘the shop’ (see image above) is physically manipulated – i.e. turned – by the actors during ‘I Hate People’ Nikolai advises the actors to ‘breathe into the movements of the body and the turning of the set to give both an intention and flowing energy. He also reminds the ensemble of being aware of taking themselves from a moment of deliberate chaos to being quietly connected for a brief moment.

Scrooge – child cast 2 – Photography by Manuel Harlan

As the show says ‘Christmas is for children young and old’ and for the final two hours the two Young Curve teams are brought in and they work with the ensemble through Nikolai and Stephen and dance captain Matthew Caputo on the sections they are involved in during the first act.

As expected they bring their youth and energy to the room. Much attention to detail is given to focus, new dance learning and their integration into Curve’s magical Christmas show, Scrooge the musical. Nikolai Foster has been generous with his opportunity to allow myself into his rehearsal space today and also his time to answer some pertinent questions about the show itself in the interview below. Many grateful thanks to all at Curve that organised my lovely visit. I learnt a lot.

Nikolai Foster with Sarah Travis. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Interview with Nikolai Foster about Scrooge The Musical. Questions by Phil Lowe.

Interview with Nikolai Foster, Artistic Director at Curve and Director of Scrooge

Scrooge – Nikolai Foster and Jasper Britton (Ebenezer Scrooge) – Photography by Manuel Harlan

How far in advance would a Christmas show like Scrooge-the musical be programmed by Curve?

Because it develops new audiences and brings families to the theatre we hope that it generates the income to support us for the rest of the year. The Christmas musical is so important to us and it’s probably the show we spend the most time deliberating on the title and planning for. We know the Christmas production a minimum of a year before it’s on, but more often than not we know a good year and a half in advance.

Would Curve tend to use a similar set of creatives (sound, light, choreographer for example) for each Christmas show or do they have an annual selection on their books from whom to choose dependent on availability?

We have a coterie of associate artists who work with us regularly and other freelance creatives who come in on a show by show basis. Everybody is chosen on merit and how appropriate they are for each specific project. For example, on Scrooge we’re working once again with Sarah Travis as our orchestrator. Sarah is an associate at Curve, a Tony award winning orchestrator and one of the best in the world so it seems a no-brainer that we’d get her involved in a project like this. We know her orchestrations for Leslie Bricusse’s fantastic score are going to completely reinvent it and make it sound even greater than it already is. Ben Cracknell is one of the finest Lighting Designers in the country. There is nobody who can paint a picture and tell a story with lights as well as Ben can, so we had to get him involved too. We’re also really honoured on Scrooge that for the first time we are working with the choreographer Stephen Mear who is, again, an Olivier award winning superb choreographer. We’re really excited to be working with him on this project.

Apart from the obvious festive themes and the popularity of Dicken’s redemptive story to attract audiences are there any other criteria that made Curve go for this show this year?

I think, like Shakespeare, Dickens is one of our most important writers and he has played and continues to play an enormous role in defining the human condition. Through telling us stories about ourselves, Dickens enables us to learn more about our own selves and challenge behaviour that isn’t for the greater good of society. I think this is one of the fundamental reasons we’re producing Scrooge this year. Again, like Shakespeare, one always wants to get the greatest writers into the repertoire and through Leslie’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol, it feels like Scrooge is a very accessible and intelligent way to share this great story with audiences. The politic of the piece and the message it shares at this time of year makes it so important, especially given what’s going on in the world at the moment.

How does Curve organise its main casting in the Christmas show? Do you have to factor in the unwanted possibility of illness in the cast and if so, how?

The casting process begins in the summertime for a Christmas show. I write a casting breakdown which is then given to the Casting Director who delivers it to all agencies.  We get approximately two-thousand submissions for the Casting Director to chisel down, and then I look at about a thousand CVs. From that thousand we probably choose about two-hundred people to come and audition. For those who are successful, we’re obviously looking at them principally for the role they’re playing but occasionally we’ll think ‘oh that person would be good to cover this other role’.

How important to the production is the use of Young Curve casting and why?

It is very important, especially at this time of year, to be using young actors, people from our Curve Young Company and from the community in the production, integrating them in a fully realised way. I think there is a real tradition in this country of pantomimes at Christmas hosting a large ensemble drawn from a community or local dance group. It’s really important that young people coming to see theatre for the first time see themselves reflected back on stage. Of course, Scrooge gives so many opportunities in the Cratchit family, the Fezziwig family and the young people of London to populate the production and the stage – they’re such a joy to work with as well!

Going pretty much straight from directing the recently very successful Sunset Boulevard to Scrooge-the musical how do you organise your working life and health to stay sharp all the way through the process?

I have a wonderful assistant who ensures my diary is well managed and that the structure of the day means that I get proper meal breaks and I can eat. Aside from that, it’s a matter of trying to keep my head down and stay focused and prioritise what is essential to do outside of rehearsals, but try and stay focused on bringing these productions to life. I think about the essence of what the writer’s trying to unlock in the piece and try to not get too bogged down in the day-to-day stuff.

What is your own favourite thing about Christmas?

I like the peace and stillness of Christmas. After all the crazy, capitalist, consumer-focused build up to it, there comes a moment around Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day where it feels like, hopefully, most people are with the people they want to be with. There seems to be a sort of calm for about 24 hours and I think that calm is really beautiful and feels very still and I really enjoy that.

For Scrooge booking details use this LINK TO CURVE.

 

 

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