Female-led and set in Cardiff, actor Hannah McPake (aka Scrooge) tells Hannah Collins why the Sherman’s Dickens adaptation is a must-see… even for Muppets purists.
Tell me about the process of preparing for a role like this. A Christmas Carol is so well-known around the world and Scrooge has been played by many, many actors – how do you approach it?
It’s a real treat to get to play such an iconic character. The challenge is that everyone knows the story and how it ends so I’ve tried to make the journey as fun as possible – looking for humour and playfulness amongst all Scrooge’s greediness and nastiness. What’s brilliant about [Writer] Gary Owen’s adaptation is that we get a glimpse of the reason why Scrooge turned out the way she did. I hope audiences will love to hate her but in the end, root for her to change. This is the first time I will have been on stage in two years due to the pandemic so I’m also excited to be back in a rehearsal room getting to play with other actors, and it’s a brilliant cast full of top Welsh talent.
What appealed to you about this role, this particular script and creative team to make you want to get involved?
I’ve worked at the Sherman a few times and always loved being part of their Christmas shows – they have a real sense of magic and wonder – so when I was asked to be part of A Christmas Carol I was thrilled. The creative team is exceptional and it’s a real privilege to be part of [Director] Joe [Murphy]’s first main stage show at The Sherman.
When Sally Dexter played Fan Scrooge, the female lead in a London production of A Christmas Carol a couple of years ago, she described the story as “unbelievably male” and that Dickens’ female characters are “caricatures.” Would you say that’s fair, and is this version, with you as Ebeneezer, a reclamation of the story for women?
I saw the production with Sally Dexter at Wilton’s Music Hall and yes, I would totally agree: Dickens portrays the world at a time when it was male-dominated. A lot of the characters are caricatures of both ‘Male’ and ‘Female.’ I’ve slightly based my interpretation of the character on Baroness Burdett Coutts, one of Charles Dickens’ closest friends and one of the wealthiest women in the world at that point in time. She was way ahead of her time, using her wealth for public benefit – even proposing to the Duke of Wellington. Of course, she’s pretty much forgotten in the history books. In our production, we portray a world in which women are an equal part of the landscape. From match girl all the way up to Fezziwig the Grocer and Scrooge, women are running businesses and excelling at all levels.
Does setting the story in Cardiff rather than London add any unique Welsh flavour?
Absolutely. Cardiff is reflected in everything from Haley Grindle’s breathtaking design to the locations mentioned in Gary Owen’s script – Victorian Cardiff is brought back to life in front of our eyes. I hope you get a real sense of the bustling, thriving hub that it was in 1843.
I understand this is an actor-musician led production. What role does music play in it? (Should we expect a Muppet or two?)
Lucy Rivers has composed the music and it’s an absolute treat, played brilliantly by an exceptional onstage band – The Humbugs. Each ghost has a distinct musical flavour, from Welsh folk to Christmas pop and Hammer horror.
Speaking of Muppets, this is a similarly family-friendly version. Would you say there are still a few ghostly scares to be had, though?
Oh yes, there are definitely some spooktacular moments, but I’m not going to spoil them for you!
There are a number of different retellings of A Christmas Carol in and around Cardiff this Christmas. Other than casting, what makes this one stand out?
Joe has created a spectacle: a story we’re familiar with reimagined for our times. It’s a visual treat – full of warmth and humour and hopefully moving, too.
Are there any other traditionally male roles that you’d love to tackle next?
I’ve played a lot of male roles in the past either as a man (complete with fake moustache) or gender-swapped. To be honest, I’d love to see more female-written, female-led productions with cracking female leads who exist in their own right, rather than as reimaginings of male characters.
What will you be watching, listening to or doing this year to get into the Christmas mood?
I have to say Muppets Christmas Carol, it’s a classic. I’ll also be tuning into Christmas Number One on Sky written by our Ghost of Marley – otherwise known as Keiron Self – and listening to Kizzy Crawford’s Ghost of Christmas Past’s new album – what a talented bunch of ghouls! Hijinx Odyssey’s Christmas production is always brilliant so if I can bag a ticket to that I’ll be heading to WMC to watch their version of Pinocchio. Also, my friends Likely Story are running a family ‘Elf Experience’ out at Forage Farm, which promises to be a lot of fun.
A Christmas Carol, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, until Fri 31 Dec.
words HANNAH COLLINS