Actor Adrian Edmondson has reflected on the relevance today of the theme of poverty in A Christmas Carol as he prepares to take on the lead role in an upcoming production.
The Young Ones star, 65, is to play Ebenezer Scrooge in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) revival of David Edgar’s adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel, which was first published in London in 1843.
Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, the production will be staged at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon from October 26 to January 1.
Edmondson said: “A Christmas Carol in an extraordinary book. It’s been in print continuously since 1843. So it must be saying something very important that catches our imagination.
“A lot of people think it’s about Scrooge and ghosts, which of course it is, but at the heart of it, it’s about poverty and our individual reaction to it.
“So it couldn’t be more relevant today than it has been in the past 30-40 years. Not since rationing really. Actual poverty in our streets. People at food banks. That’s the driving force of it for Dickens.
“He’d read a report on poverty and was considering writing this as a dry pamphlet, but wrote it as a story because he thought it would connect more. And, of course, it does. So it’s hard to find a play that’s more relevant, especially one you might enjoy.
“I’m really looking forward to playing Scrooge. Why, you might ask, would you watch a show about a really horrible person?
“You watch it because you’re cheering him on, urging him to become a better person. You’re on his side, you want him to turn. I think that makes him one of the most fundamentally interesting characters in literature, and a great part to play.”
Edmondson’s return to the RSC follows his debut in 2017 as steward Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and he has previously been seen in stage productions including The Rocky Horror Show, Waiting For Godot, Bits Of Me Are Falling Apart and The Boy Friend.
His long list of TV credits includes Bottom, Blackadder, Bancroft, Cheat, Save Me, Upstart Crow and The Comic Strip Presents…, while his film roles include The Supergrass, The Pope Must Die, Guesthouse Paradiso, which he also directed, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Joining him in Dickens’s much-loved classic and Victorian morality tale is Casualty, Ackley Bridge and former Strictly contestant Sunetra Sarker, who will make her RSC debut as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Edgar’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol first ran at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 2017 and was revived the following year due to audience demand.
Edgar, whose other critically-acclaimed works include Maydays, Trying It On, and The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby, said of A Christmas Carol: “In 1843, Dickens read a parliamentary report on the conditions of children in the mines and factories of what was aptly called the Hungry Forties, and resolved to write an angry political pamphlet, to be published that Christmas, calling for reform.
“By the end of the year he’d produced not a tract but a universal story of how benevolence is stronger than greed. I wanted to put Dickens and his ambitions in the foreground of the adaptation.
“In Rachel Kavanaugh’s wonderful production – combining a glorious set with dazzling choreography and musical score – we see Dickens construct his story before our very eyes.
“When we premiered the show in 2017, millions were already relying on food banks and beggars haunted city streets.
“Covid and the cost-of-living crisis have made economic inequality – and raw poverty – an even more pressing reality.
“And yet – in the way the nation came together around the NHS to combat the pandemic – we have been reminded of the selflessness and generosity of spirit which lies at the heart of Dickens’s enduringly optimistic story.”
Other recent news around A Christmas Carol includes Welsh actor Owen Teale portraying Scrooge in The Old Vic’s production this year, and streaming giant Netflix has announced a festive animated feature titled Scrooge: A Christmas Carol with a star-studded voice cast including names like Olivia Colman, Luke Evans, Jessie Buckley and Giles Terera.