BWW Interview: Griff Rhys Jones Talks LMTO's A CHRISTMAS CAROL
London Musical Theatre Orchestra return to the Lyceum Theatre for their annual festive concert spectacle of A Christmas Carol. This year's Ebenezer Scrooge, Griff Rhys Jones, speaks to BroadwayWorld about all things Dickens
How did you get into the industry?
Well, I started acting in various groups and directing a lot while at university. I had intended on becoming a theatre director but was offered a job by the BBC as a result of a student revue I had directed at the Edinburgh Festival. The next thing I knew I was a BBC Radio producer. I sometimes think I still am.
Are you a Scrooge in real life?
Oh yes. Not according to my wife, though. I am inclined to spend now and think about the consequences later.
I have always worried about the implications of my unbridled profligacy without actually adding anything up or doing anything about it, so I tend to worry about pennies and splurge pounds. Better the other way around, despite all proverbs.
How do you celebrate Christmas? Do you have any family traditions?
We gather in Suffolk and light the fires. It's exactly the same every year - although now with added babies. I would rather overturn some of the traditions, but we are stuck in the rut of the season, I fear.
A Christmas Carol has been adapted multiple times, but what's different about Menken, Ahrens and Ockrent's take on it?
It's a musical version, of course. It has some added fillips to expand the storyline and integrate characters, which works very cleverly, but it stays true to the very core of the Dickens original.
If I were pretentious (and I probably am), I would say that the wonderful emotional music stands in for the voice of Dickens himself, which is of course the principal character in the actual book. It's hugely uplifting and moving.
What made you want to be part of LMTO's A Christmas Carol?
I was asked. And I love the book. I've made a TV programme about it and read it a couple of times at Christmas at the Royal Festival Hall to packed houses in previous years.
What would you ask Santa for?
Any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I'm heading back to Australia next to do some telly and have plans for another stand-up set this coming year. I've done two shows now. It's new and I hugely enjoy it.
You wear many hats (presenter, producer, performer, writer...). What's your favourite thing about working behind the scenes and/or on-stage?
Yes, Jack of all trades... I was never an actor, I was a producer, writer, enabler. Mel Smith and I said that we had the acting to fall back on, and I am doing more now. But I like variety and tend to get excited about being asked to do things and meeting with people.
Why do you think the story of A Christmas Carol has stood the test of time?
It's short. Dickens could be expansive, couldn't he? It's quite a commitment sometimes to embark on a great journey with him. Not with this Christmas book. It summed up some of his sympathetic sensibilities.
He doesn't despise and ostracise Scrooge for his wrong-headedness, as some might seek to do today in this internet age of priggish mob-shaming. He sneakily has sympathy for some of Scrooge's points of view. But he allows for redemption through education. One of the key points is that the greatest of sins is "ignorance". Scrooge is allowed to see and learn. And we are affected by his emotional journey.
What was the most interesting thing you learned about Dickens while making Charles Dickens and the Invention of Christmas?
Partly that Christmas was by no means dead in 1838, but it was not the celebration that we have made it. Dickens loved the idea of it and helped to popularise it amongst the remaining puritanical "enlightenment" faction. He certainly didn't invent "Victorian Christmas".
A Christmas Carol was published in the same year as the first Christmas card, for example. But interestingly, Dickens himself worried about the monster he had unleashed in later years.
Any advice for other aspiring multi-hypheners? (Writers-cum-actors-cum-everything else...)
Go with the flow.
Why should people come to A Christmas Carol?
Nothing will get you more into the Christmas mood.
LMTO's A Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theatre on December 10 and 17
Check out our interview with LMTO conductor and founder Freddie Tapner about the orchestra and their 2018 season.
Photo credit: Nick Rutter