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Interview with Martin Ball

A Christmas Carol Martin Ball as Scrooge
Martin Ball as Scrooge

Promising another heart-warming family production, Ciaran McConville directs a company of actors joined by members of the Rose Youth Theatre in his own brand new adaptation of Dickens’ enchanting story.

Ebenezer Scrooge hates Christmas. He hates charity, he hates carol singers and more than anything he hates spending money. But this is a year like no other as Scrooge is propelled on a helter-skelter, supernatural ride through Christmases past, present and future. From carefree youth to misguided greed, from snowscapes to city streets, this is an epic adventure of the imagination. Will Scrooge open his heart to the true spirit of Christmas before it’s too late?

Martin Ball stars as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at The Rose Theatre Kingston. He recently took time out to chat about the production.

Written in 1843 – why do you think A Christmas Carol is still so popular?
It’s just an eternal story of redemption. How many of us would love this extraordinary gift that Scrooge gets, of a second chance. As humans most of us muck it up at some point and what wouldn’t most adults pay to have a second chance. And Scrooge gets a second chance and that’s just the most wonderful thing to see. Few of us are completely bad, for most people there have been reasons why things have gone wrong. Virtually none of us are beyond redemption. Firstly we get to go back and see why Scrooge became that way, with many simple mistakes and many of them well-intentioned, including putting value in the wrong places. In a sense he is as much a victim as a villain. The wonderful heart-warming thing is that he gets the second chance, and takes it.

What can you tell us about your Scrooge?
It is an absolute joy to play the role every night. There is this enormous arc. Very few characters have such an extraordinary arc. With a 180 degree journey in his character which is very gratifying. It’s great fun and also a great fun challenge. It takes three different ghosts; Past, Present and Future before he gets it, and it isn’t until the third ghost that he does. The glorious moment of waking up to realise that he has got another chance. That’s just heaven. Scrooge is also never off stage and the evening passes enormously quickly. I pick up my pen in the Counting House to start spitting venom at poor Bob Cratchit and the next thing I am banging sleigh bells the other side of the stage. It’s like a wormhole in time.

A Christmas Carol Martin Ball as Scrooge
Martin Ball as Scrooge

The company of actors are joined by members of the Rose Youth Theatre. What can you tell us about working together?
Ciaran McConville has adapted the piece and is also directing, and he has been working with the Youth Group since August. He has the most extraordinary gift for working with young people. The key thing is that he sets the bar extremely high and he expects them to reach it. Some will say “they are only children so we can’t expect too much…”, but no, Ciaran expects an enormous amount from them, from the 10 to 11-year-olds to the 19-year-olds. And they all achieve it. And not just in terms of performance but in terms of focus, commitment, concentration, discipline – which is important when you have 52 kids in the room trying to rehearse.
He says, “Write notes,” and there they are, all of them cross-legged on the floor with scripts and a sharp pencil. I wish I could say that all professional companies had the same discipline. How many times have I heard in the past…. “Oh where’s my script?”, “Have you got a pencil?“Can I borrow your pen?” etc. In that respect we have learnt an awful lot. For example, I have to know where my pencil is, so I have bought a pack of pencils. So when we get asked, I am down on the floor with the rest of them with my script and my pencil. That’s done me a power of good and I am not ashamed to admit it.

So, in terms of discipline and technical application I have learnt a lot from those young people. They have this wonderful innocence and energy about them. But they are in this extraordinary position of getting what is essentially a drama school education. It isn’t just Ciaran, they have a team including voice, movement etc. So they get asked of them everything that gets asked at drama school with the same high expectation of delivering it.

They get given extraordinary world-class advice. For example in most youth groups they will get asked, “Who is the most important person on the stage?” and most will answer “It’s me, I must shine and do my bit.

What the youth group at Kingston learn is that the most important person on the stage is the other person. Because you need the information from them, you need to know they can hear you and are listening to you, or that they know the answer to the question you are asking them. They get to learn what do I get from this scene and what do I want from this scene.

As soon as they get to hear that one profound piece of advice you turn a young actor into a focused professional. And that is just a joy to watch. I would be the first to say that I was really glad to hear that simple piece of information. Just to be reminded of a simple dramatic truth is so valuable. I can also say that I am learning with them. This includes warm-ups. As part of mine, when I drive in on my motorbike I scream and shout into my helmet. I hum and whistle away while listening to Radio 4. But I still get a lot out of being part of the group when we warm-up together. In a sense I wish all ‘adult theatre’ was like it, with that same kind of strict discipline to it. I am really grateful for it and loving every minute of it.

What is special about this adaptation?
It is beautifully written. Using 99.9% of Dickens’ words, which is timeless and irreplaceable, Ciaran has created a brilliant journey through the piece. I read the story, as I wasn’t familiar with it, it wasn’t part of my childhood and as I prepared for the audition I cried. I wept reading it. I went in for the audition and didn’t hear anything for a month. One evening my girlfriend came in and said “Oh, have you got a recall for Scrooge?” And I said, “No, I haven’t.” and she asked “So why have you got the script open and reading it?” I replied… “Because I just love it. I have just been reading it for the fun of it.” I did then get called in a couple of weeks later. I think I forced him to give me the job as I showed so much enthusiasm and my genuine love of it.

What are you enjoying most about being a part of this production?
In addition to what I have already said I love the camaraderie of being back in a communal dressing room, laughing and making jokes. I have been in the West End for the best part of the last 10 years, which is all very cushy with your own dressing room, coffee machine brewing, some Radio 4 with the music playing and all the space in the world.

So it is just great to get back to one’s roots and be in a shared dressing room, milling around and having the banter that goes with it. With that, there is much laughter and enormous fun. So, whatever mood you come in with you from your day into the dressing room, you get shaken down and become part of the group. In the West End that doesn’t happen until you get down to the wing. It works in the way that if you are driving your car and you get a splattered windscreen, this enormous great wiper blade comes and clears the emotional windscreen completely. This makes you feel fresh and focused to get on with the show again. I have enormous respect for my peers. The adults in the cast are extremely talented. Those that are musicians are simply brilliant and their dedication is displayed in the precision of their performances.

One other straight actor with me is Paul Hawkyard, who I would describe as being alchemic. He can take any line, spin it and do anything with it, get pure magic out of it. I watch and learn from him. We have known each other for about ten years but have never worked together before. He is an absolute hoot to have on stage. He has so much energy. He is also so incredibly generous. He is as powerful being the straight man for someone else’s jokes, being in an emotional moment, or when he is claiming the glory himself.

Why should everyone get along to The Rose Theatre to see A Christmas Carol?
Because it is one of the most beautiful stories ever told. The story is a basic one of redemption. It happens at Christmas but is an all year round story. It is also infinitely feel-good.

What’s next after A Christmas Carol?
I now want to do work that I really want to do. I have a week off in January and then start in a beautiful crafted 4-hander at the Tristan Bates Theatre. A part that I just had to do. Working with such a small cast will be the complete opposite to what I am doing now.

*****

A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
Adapted and directed by Ciaran McConville

Ebenezer Scrooge hates Christmas. He hates charity, he hates carol singers and more than anything he hates spending money. But this is a year like no other as Scrooge is propelled on a helter-skelter, supernatural ride through Christmases past, present and future. From carefree youth to misguided greed, from snowscapes to city streets, this is an epic adventure of the imagination. Will Scrooge open his heart to the true spirit of Christmas before it’s too late?

Promising another heart-warming family production, Ciaran McConville directs a company of actors joined by members of the Rose Youth Theatre in his own brand new adaptation of Dickens’ enchanting story.

Cast: Martin Ball, Elisa Boyd, Tomm Coles, Paul Hawkyard, Anthony Hunt, Anne-Marie Piazza, Jon Trenchard, Rose Youth Theatre

A Christmas Carol
The Rose Theatre
Kingston
Tuesday 1st December 2015 to Sunday 3rd January 2016
http://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/

Author

  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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