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photo: Huw Talfryn Walters

Elizabeth Szymczak speaks to The Chimes director Judith Roberts about the adaption of the Dickens classic, as well as the experience of inviting members of the homeless community to join the production.

How did this production of The Chimes come about?

I’ve known the writer [David Willis] for many years, and this is a piece he’d been working on for a while. I offered to work on the script with him, as I liked the idea of the adaption. We got to the point where we felt this was a script that should be produced.  I applied for funding from the Arts Council of England and of Wales, and this made it possible to invite those rebuilding their lives to integrate with a professional cast, crafting a production that brings together the experience and understanding of two very different groups of people to create something inspirational and exciting.

How did you begin the process of inviting those from the homeless community to form the ensemble cast?

We contacted the key charities in Cardiff and London, and told them about the production. They reacted very positively, as they recognized it would offer such people an opportunity that would take them out of their world and recognize them as individuals. We wanted to welcome them with open arms and without prejudice, to be supportive and prepared to take people as they are. We wanted to restore their self worth and self-belief; to provide a sense of being part of wider community.

What were some of the main challenges that you faced with the production?

We had to be realistic in terms of what we expected from the ensemble members and the rehearsal time, as it takes much longer to rehearse with this cast as opposed to those who have been trained for number of years.  We went into the process with open eyes, knowing it would take time for some ensembles to become rooted.  We now have some really dedicated people from Cardiff and London who have grown tremendously. We’ve also held workshops that have allowed us to build relationships and offer training, to the point where members can come into the rehearsal room with an understanding of what to expect.


photo: Huw Talfryn Walters

What changes have you seen in the members of the homeless community as a result of this production?

We are working with people whose lives have been knocked off-kilter, and there are further consequences to not having a stable home over your head, such as a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, not to mention practical things such as gadgets…things we take for granted and rely upon everyday. However throughout the course of this production I have seen a marked change, and a huge growth in self-confidence and self-belief as they have realized what they are capable of and the contribution they have to make. I have no doubt that many of them are looking forward to the next opportunity. These progressions are something to take forward in every aspect of life.

What are you taking away from this experience?

What has struck me is realizing that I could have been in this situation so easily. So many of these ensemble members seemed to have ordinary lives; it just takes a simple spanner in the works, one bad decision, for such a life to slip away from you. Once that’s happened it becomes so difficult to rebuild. The futures of ensemble members are uncertain – I know that one member is likely to find himself back on the streets within a couple of weeks.

What was it about this story that captured your attention?

Dickens wrote with the intention of bringing about change, directly addressing the issues of homelessness and injustice in society. When we read the story now, we realize so little has changed. We wanted to create an adaptation that is pertinent to today, setting the story within a contemporary context to explore what those characters might experience if they were alive today. Overall this production offers a simple magical experience in a beautiful setting that is about human endeavor, and the joy in humanity and of our relationship with one another.

St. John’s Church, Canton, Cardiff, Thu 6 – Sat 16 Dec. Tickets: £12/£16. Info: +44 (0)29 2030 4400 /

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