This Christmas, the Hope Mill Theatre are staging a musical sequel to the much treasured festive tale A Christmas Carol. The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit tells the story of Tiny Tim as he grows up.
Inspired by the characters of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the story follows young Timothy as he moves in with Ebenezer Scrooge and goes on many of life’s adventures – which turn out to be extraordinarily theatrical.
Director Jonathan O’Boyle, who directed some of the Hope Mill Theatre’s other hugely successful musicals such as Hair and Pippin, spoke to me about this exciting new production.
“What is brilliant about the show is that it’s set around seven or eight years after A Christmas Carol Ends, so it’s a story created with what would have happened if Scrooge became nice and ends up fostering Timothy when Bob Cratchit dies,” Jonathan explained. “He becomes his guardian and looks after him. I love the idea that Scrooge essentially lives his life through Timothy now.”
The turning point in the story is where Timothy experiences The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace – an exhibition set up by Prince Albert to display the many wonders of the world. This moment is when Timothy discovers how much of life he is missing out on, and decides to explore it by setting out to find his place in the world.
Timothy meets the famous Giuseppe Grimaldi and joins the Circus, so Scrooge is left bereft and feels he has to find his own life again after putting his efforts into supporting Timothy. It’s a crazy, wonderful story that brings together characters we know and love in the most theatrical way.
“Allan, who wrote the book for the musical came across the biography of Grimaldi written by Dickens, so they were actually around at the same time and had the same kind of background,” Jonathan said.
“So it’s the Dickens Christmas Carol characters blending with an Italian clown and how that manifests itself in Victorian London.”
Jonathan has been working on this musical for a while ever since he workshopped it at Katy Lipson’s Page to Stage festival. “I did two weeks work on it and then a semi-staged showing. It was over a year ago and since then I’ve been working with Allan and Andre so I’m really familiar with the show,” Jonathan said. “It’s great because normally you don’t have the luxury of a long lead time into a project, but with this musical I feel properly embedded into it.”
With music and lyrics by Andre Catrini and the book by Allan Knee, the writer of the Hope Mill Theatre’s 2017 musical Little Women, it’s set to be a musical bursting with charm.
“Andre has written a brilliant score, there are eleven songs in each act that I’d describe as traditional musical theatre but with a modern flair,” Jonathan explained. “It is really romantic and exciting. We have a band of five and then three actor/musicians. Andre is a big fan of Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz so he is excellent at telling a story through song and pushing the narrative forwards.
“There are some really fun songs, like one about Timothy trying to get a job and he goes to a mortician, a stables, Harrods and all these places – it is very funny. So he is also very witty about the way he structures the story of a song which is really exciting for this show.”
Every time you visit the Hope Mill Theatre it is transformed in a completely different way. Jonathan has the challenge of the multitude of locations featured in this musical. “So the show opens at Crystal Palace at the exhibition but then it goes everywhere to Scrooge’s house, Covent Garden, around London and across Britain. We wanted to create a frame that all these places can exist in,” Jonathan said.
“It’s like a dilapidated Victorian theatre based on Crystal Palace – so it’s full of mirrors. It will feel quite Victorian, quite gothic and magical. We have beautiful period costumes, but with our own modern twist and flair. It has cleverly abstracted the location but it’s lovely and magical for Christmas.”
It’s a family show and the theatrical nature of it sets to spark the imagination of children. “It’s not a panto, it’s a festive show about Christmas with characters we are all so familiar with around this time of year,” Jonathan explained. “We keep saying in rehearsals to remember that this is for families – so nine year olds up to ninety year olds. It can’t ever get too serious as it has to have a sense of fun and magic, which has been really freeing to work with.”
The intimacy of the Hope Mill Theatre is what will make this production so special for families, because they will feel truly immersed in the experience.
“I want audiences to be full of love and joy and be thrilled by this musical,” Jonathan said. “It is a really heart-warming story and a different type of Christmas show that is full of magic and wonder.
“I want everyone to go out with a smile on their face and reconnect with their friends and family. For me this show is about peace, love and finding friends and family really important. I want audiences to be thrilled and have had a good night, but also think about their own lives and how they connect with people.”
The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit is on at the Hope Mill Theatre from the 22nd of November to the 29th of December. Tickets and information can be found on their website.
Photo credit // Pamela Raith