Homeless take to the stage for Dickens’ rage against poverty, The Chimes

“It has a grip on the very throat of the times.”

This Christmas, a new musical production of The Chimes, inspired by the biting wit and moral outrage of Dickens’s 1844 novel, and prompted by the harsh realities of poverty in 21st-century Britain, will play at St John’s Church in both Cardiff and London.

The production will be staged site-specifically in the two churches, with ten performances in each city.

The Chimes is directed and produced by Judith Roberts, written by David Willis and composed by Conor Linehan, and presented in partnership with Chapter arts centre.

The production will combine a cast of eight professional actors, led by Matthew Jure and Lucy Benson-Brown, with ensemble companies drawn from homeless communities in Cardiff and London.

The creative team have been working with three of the country’s leading homeless charities – The Passage in London, and The Wallich and The Huggard in Cardiff – since early September, offering weekly drama workshops to men and women who found themselves homeless.

Following the success of A Christmas Carol, Dickens continued to write a seasonal story each year for the next 25 years.

His second was The Chimes, written in the middle of the ‘Hungry Forties’ as famine swept through Ireland, the Chartists led strikes and riots across Britain, and London was blighted with desperate poverty and prostitution.

The purpose of the book was to strike a real blow for the poor and to force the middle classes to sit up and pay attention – more of a protest song than a carol.

This new adaptation of The Chimes draws explicit parallels between Dickens’s world and contemporary experiences of class, hunger and poverty in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and in the context of the new iniquities and inefficiencies of the universal credit system.

Director Judith Roberts said: “We began by asking ourselves ‘what might Dickens think of Britain in 2017, and what would he want us to do about it?’.

“We’re not politicians, we’re theatre makers, so we felt we should do what we know best: invite men and women who know first-hand how hard it is to rebuild your life when you’ve become homeless.

“We wanted them to help us share that experience with audiences, and create a warm, witty, seasonal show which has been inspired by the insight and satire of Charles Dickens and captures the true spirit of Christmas.”

Matthew Jure, who plays Trotty, is best known for his TV roles in the BBC1 series Waking The Dead and The Great Train Robbery, opposite Jim Broadbent.

He has also appeared in Downton Abbey and in the Sky and Canal+ Anglo-French crime drama The Tunnel with Clémence Poésy.

Lucy, playing Meg, is an actor and writer whose previous stage credits include Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann (Royal Exchange Bruntwood Competition) and Platform by Duncan MacMillan and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm (Old Vic Tunnels & Frantic Assembly).

Full cast: Matthew Jure, Lucy Benson Brown, Gruffydd Evans, Fergus Rees, Olivia Rose Aaron, Rhys Parry Jones, Joanna Brookes, Dafydd Emyr and an ensemble of men and women from the homeless community.

The Chimes plays at St John’s Church, Canton, Cardiff from December 7-16 and, at St John’s Church, Waterloo, London, December 19-30.

There will be ten tickets free of charge at every performance to those experiencing homelessness.

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