The Chimes is a new piece of music theatre which has been adapted from the second Christmas story by Charles Dickens. It has been created in response to the subject which lies at the heart of Dickens’s tale : a society which looks down on people for being poor and penalises them for it, is not a society to be proud of. But the project is far greater than a production : it will be a very real and practical bridge between the Arts and the homeless community which forges a genuine and purposeful relationship between the two.
The Creative Team
The adaptation has been created by David Willis (Gloria Theatre and many collaborations with other music-theatre companies). The score will be composed by Conor Linehan.
“Conor Linehan’s intelligent songs provide the gift-wrapping for this short but sweet piece of family theatre.” Irish Times review of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Lyric Theatre, Belfast December 2014
“Conor Linehan’s score contains some fol-de-rol themes you’ll be humming for days. But that’s the trouble with this hypochondria – it can be catching.” Guardian review of ‘The Hypochondriac’, Liverpool Playhouse, July 2009
He and Judith Roberts (director) first worked together in 1999 to create an acclaimed musical adaptation of Boucicault’s ‘The Streets of Dublin’ :
“This spoof melodrama, stuffed with absurdly sneaking villains and amusingly sickening goodies, is an enjoyable alternative to the seasonal pile of pantos. ….The production is sharp in its satire of token sympathies with poverty ….(and) the frame, which could result in tired cod-acting, actually lets loose truly funny over-the-top performances under Judith Roberts’s high-energy direction.” Kate Bassett, The Times
They have subsequently worked together on many occasions :
“Comedy masterpiece in safe hands ….. Judith Roberts’s slick directing balanced slapstick and sophistication. An evening of pure entertainment. Go and see it.” Western Mail review of ‘Le Misanthrope’ May 2007
“There was fervent applause for a production worthy of any national theatre.” Golwg review of ‘The Crucible’ February 2008
“There was a tangible thrill in the auditorium as the lights faded before the interval.” BBC website review of ‘La Casa de Bernarda Alba’, May 2009
“powerfully gut wrenching, at times shocking and always painfully sincere, raw drama…
While some other performances about the experiences and terrible suffering of soldiers veer into sentimentality and, frankly, could be benefits for Help for Heroes, in their lack of thought, analysis, questioning and often plain honesty, Triptych is a warts and all smack in the face about the suffering of the men and women who come home, seemingly in one piece, but shattered mentally.”
TRIPTYCH, De Oscuro, Mike Smith – Arts Scene in Wales, July 2015
A bridge between the Arts and the homeless community
Dickens’s biting satire was intended to effect real political change and this musical adaptation doesn’t pull its punches. Through a framing device, it presents the story within the context of the 21st century – creating an astute and witty adaptation of Dickens’s tale for today’s audience. It will also be a very real and practical bridge between the Arts and the homeless community which forges a genuine and purposeful relationship between the two.
While life on the streets is physically hard and often dangerous, it’s the emotional isolation and the removal of an identity which devastates. It’s the fact that you’re completely ignored by the world around you – not seen, not acknowledged, and rendered invisible – that is so emotionally draining, leaving you without the strength and resilience to begin to tackle the often massive practical problems you face.
The Chimes will provide an opportunity for the general public to learn more about the complex and long-lasting effects of homelessness and help tackle the prejudice encountered by people who have become homeless.
The Chimes will invite a group of men and women who have been homeless to become members of an ensemble which works alongside a professional cast to create a witty, seasonal production which takes a wry look at the world around us.
The journey will begin during the months prior to the start of rehearsals when we’ll be working with the support of Crisis UK, the Huggard, the Sanctuary and other shelters across London and Cardiff to offer weekly workshops for men and women who have been homeless and are striving to rebuild their lives. These workshops are designed to build self-confidence and an ability to communicate thoughts and feelings; they’ll develop the participants’ communication skills, diminish their fear of engaging with others and develop in them an ability to trust.
These attributes are life-enhancing and they will help the people taking part on their journey towards living independently in the community once more. Of course, the workshops will also give the participants the confidence and skills they require when they join the company of professional actors in the rehearsal room and we will be inviting up to ten in each city to become members of the production’s ensemble.
The emotional journey of the ensemble members is as important as the production itself. So, too, is the journey of those who work alongside them and those who sit as members of the audience : this project is about working together to build bridges and overcome prejudice and misunderstanding.
The production will be presented in December and staged, site-specific, in two beautiful churches – one in Cardiff and one in London, with nine performances in each. These churches lie at the heart of the community, away from the privileged environment of a theatre building. The dynamic production will be staged in traverse so that it embraces the church’s architecture and envelops the audience.
The support for this project has been considerable. We have secured £40,000 from the Arts Council of England and hope to gain a further £25,000 from the Arts Council of Wales. We have also gained the support and the endorsement of The Big Issue and Crisis UK and Chapter Arts Centre, which has offered sponsorship in kind to a value of £15,000 and undertaken a campaign to raise a further £30,000.
Reaching out to new audiences
We will be offering 10 tickets for each performance free of charge to members of the homeless community so that they can be members of the audience and part of this collective experience. In a drive to reach out to new audiences, we will also be working with the Communities First teams to offer a discounted ticket price to others for whom cost might be a barrier.
When pantomimes, ballets and large commercial musicals fill the city’s theatres and concert halls, The Chimes will offer a magical and inspiring alternative with a powerful message for people of all ages about the true spirit of Christmas and the power of the arts.