Interview with... Flanagan Collective's Creative Director Alexander Wright

A Christmas Carol
Lamb & Lion - York

Interview by James Eaglesfield

It’s been an exciting year of contrasts for the Flanagan Collective’s Creative Director Alexander Wright. As we both try to ignore the wet, wintery weather outside, the subjects of the past, present and future come up in a way appropriate to his production of A Christmas Carol which is soon to open in York’s Lamb and Lion pub.

Set up with ambitions no loftier than “just the intention of making some stuff”, the Flanagan Collective have had a successful couple of years, even though Alex claims that it has “been about going to places we like going, places we enjoy and playing lots of drinking songs afterwards.”

“We’ve made a bunch of stuff, a whole range of stuff: shows, musicals, festivals and had a great time.  It’s been brilliant actually. We’ve made two new musicals, Some Small Love Story and then Beulah, we’ve played The Little Festival Of Everything (two of them in Coxwold and others elsewhere), did A Christmas Carol last year, went to Australia at the beginning of this year to take two stories there for the Adelaide Fringe Festival, and done a few commissions for other people as well.”

A busy time indeed but one that hardly tells the whole story.  Their 2-hander folk musical, Beulah made an impressive impression at the Edinburgh Fringe garnering a clutch of five star reviews, award nominations and packing the people in.  Simultaneously, Alex was an Associate Director for the York Mystery Plays 2012 which involved a cast of around 500 people and many more volunteers working in other departments.

“Over summer, it was funny yo-yoing between Edinburgh and York.  I got used to being in a rehearsal room with a hundred people and just me, being part of organising a show that would have 500 people on stage and would be watched by over 30,000 people and then heading back to Edinburgh to work on a two hander where you could fit just 40 people in the audience.

“It was very humbling to do both of those things.  Working on something intimate, delicate and beautiful, and then working on something so massive, a brilliant spectacle with the whole story and which had been invested in by so many people. “
After such a seemingly manic year it maybe is not a surprise that the present sees Alexander spending some time in the pub, though he is still working.

“We were talking in the Lamb and Lion, probably trying to figure out how we could spend more time in the pub and call it work. We were talking about food, drinking, socialising and storytelling.  People still go to a pub to spend time and but in a theatre you don’t just spend some time; you are there to see a show. The psychology of the two is quite different.  I think it is nice that people will be able to come to a pub to spend some time and see a show as well.”

From there the idea of producing a play in a pub was born – and then they added a meal in to the bargain.  Does the element of a meal cause any problems or will people be more worried about their peas than the play?

“The room we’re doing A Christmas Carol in is called the Top Parlour which you can fit about 20 people in and that is it.  So with 20 people and 2 actors there’s not any way to escape from the story. You can’t help but be a part of it and the audience have a role and a job to do.  It’s not really audience participation; they’re a part of the world of the play. Marley charges them with the task of restoring the joy of Christmas to Scrooge’s withered, frozen heart.“

“We’ve kind of done away with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come, Marley is the conduit of those things instead.  It all still happens but without someone going off and coming back in a different costume. The ghost of Christmas present in the book is Scrooge experiencing other people’s joy of Christmas, he sees the brilliant time that all these families and friends are having. The way we are doing that is by having a big dinner with each other and having some drinks. And that’s act two of the play.  So some food with arrive and we’ll spend half an hour eating, drinking and playing games and Scrooge and Marley will be a part of that.”

“You don’t get your own little plate of food, it will all be brought in on platters and the audience will have to share, get each other’s drinks and pass the pork pies. After the show hopefully people will stick around and have a few drinks with new friends.”

“The story’s still Dickensian and hasn’t been updated at all, but the audience will always be a 2012 audience though don’t think people mind being a little old fashioned at Christmas.  They quite happily reel themselves back a few hundred years and believe that it’s snowing and they are by a fireside some hot mulled drink to keep them happy.  The production style isn’t a traditional presentation though, it probably breaks the odd rule, but in a very gentle and kind way - and Scrooge will be in a smashing night shirt!”

So that’s the past and present covered what about the future?

“In 2011, Some Small Love Story, a contemporary musical, did very well, got very good critical acclaim and award nominations.  That was picked up theatre producers Hartshorn-Hook and in the spring Some Small Love Story and Beulah are going out as a double bill on a national tour. Some Small Love Story  is quite different from Beulah but still very much about people and relationships.”

Add to that a series of children’s shows that will be initially produced by Polka Theatre before touring York schools, writing a couple of new shows and a number of other projects and it is fair to say that the future is bright for Alex and the Flanagan Collective – once they’ve got out of the pub that is!

A Christmas Carol
15th - 30th Dec - The Lamb & Lion York